DCRA Finally Releases Airbnb Rules

The District Consumer and Regulatory Affairs agency has finally issued the final rules that will govern Airbnb’s in DC. The rules are a long time coming, since they stem from legislation the Council passed in 2018. DCRA first proposed the rules last fall. The final rules are consistent with the legislation and the proposed rules, and, as written, will largely curtail Airbnb’s in the city.

The approach that the legislation and the rules take towards Airbnb is to take the company at its word. Which is to say that Airbnb sells itself as a way for homeowners to welcome guests into their home for unique experiences. The reality, of course, is that Airbnb is largely used by property owners and investors to rent out otherwise vacant properties to visitors looking to avoid hotels. The property owners often own multiple properties and use professional management companies to handle the administration.

The rules would make such practice illegal. In order to rent out a property on a short-term basis (i.e. less than 30 days) the property needs to be owned by the individual renting it out and (more importantly) be his or her primary residence. A great deal (if not most) of the Airbnb hosts in DC will be unable to meet this requirement.

Additionally, the rules make a distinction between “short term rentals” and “vacation rentals”. A short term rental is one where the host remains present throughout the guests’ stay. This is the model that Airbnb touts in its advertisements (but doesn’t make up a large portion of their business). Homeowners who remain present for their guests may rent out their properties an unlimited number of nights a year.

Vacation rentals, on the other hand, do not require the host to be present (i.e. the vast majority of Airbnb bookings). A DC Airbnb host may operate the property this way, but may not host guests more than 90 days a year.

GM has been tracking the growth of Airbnb listings in Georgetown for a while now. It does seem that a lot of the properties will not be in compliance once the rules go into effect. But will enforcement follow? In the past when Airbnb’s were clearly illegal–due to the fact there wasn’t really any way that a homeowner could be in compliance–the city only cracked down of properties that were getting used as party houses. Will it continue this approach? Time will tell.


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