Homestays have a limit of operating up to only 90 days, but short-term rentals don’t have a limit. 

In March 2019, Harrisonburg City Council adopted regulations that legally allowed city residents to operate short term rentals. Harrisonburg Director of Communications Michael Parks said City Council has since approved a separate category of rentals known as “homestays,” which have a shorter approval process than short-term rentals.

“You would assume that homestays are going to be less impactful on local infrastructure in a neighborhood than a short-term rental could possibly be,” Parks said.

The differences

Homestays have a limit of operating up to 90 nights per calendar year, Assistant Director of Planning and Zoning Thanh Dang said, while short-term rentals don’t have a limit. She also said that homestays can have a maximum of four guests, while short-term rentals have no maximum guest number.

Dang said as city staff became familiar with short-term rental applications, they started to notice commonalities. She said this spurred a conversation to introduce a way for those who wish to operate a short-term rental to bypass the usual two to three month special use permit approval process if they meet certain criteria. 

Homestays approved

Parks said community development director Adam Fletcher presented the proposed changes to City Council during its meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 25. Council members Richard Baugh, George Hirschmann and Sal Romero voted in favor of the ordinance change with Chris Jones abstaining.

“City Council and staff wanted to give homeowners the option of being able to generate some revenue from their homes,” Parks said. “It’s something we’ve been wanting to allow people to do while being mindful of some regulations and concerns that those individuals have to take into account.”

The special use permit approval process requires a staff review, planning commission review and approval by City Council, Dang said, in addition to an annual $25 registration fee. Now that homestays have been accepted, she said the approval process for applications that meet homestay requirements will be much shorter. She said homestay operators must still pay an annual registration fee.

According to the PowerPoint presented by Fletcher available on the City of Harrisonburg’s website, short-term rentals and homestays both must be at the operator’s primary residence, and if the operator isn’t the property owner, then the operator must be present during the lodging period. The PowerPoint also states that both are allowed in all zoning districts that residential uses are allowed and that lodging periods at both are limited to less than 30 nights.

Homestays and JMU students

Dang said both short-term rentals and homestays are allowed in single-family detached, duplex and townhomes. They’re not allowed in apartments, she said, which she said she thinks will deter JMU students from operating homestays because it’d require them to pursue a special use permit.

“I haven’t received any questions from JMU students who have expressed interest or curiosity about whether they can operate a short term rental or homestay,” Dang said. “I think that would be too much of a hurdle for some people to go through.”

According to the PowerPoint, homestays have no off-street parking requirements, while short-term rentals require one off-street parking space for each accommodation space. Parks said parking and traffic concerns often come up when residents object to short-term rentals.

Hirschmann said he understands public concerns about short-term rentals and homestays. As a child, Hirschmann said, he grew up in a household where his parents rented out their third floor to guests.

“I kind of grew up in that atmosphere,” Hirschmann said. “I’m not averse to it if everybody plays by the rules.”

Parks said before COVID-19, many people would come into the community looking for short-term rentals or hotel lodging to explore the city or the university. He said JMU orientation, football games and commencement would bring possible short-term rental guests. However, he said the pandemic may have an impact on travel, so the demand for short-term rentals or homestays may not be as high.

Contact Kamryn Koch at For more coverage of JMU and Harrisonburg news, follow the news desk on Twitter @BreezeNewsJMU.