Twenty-one homes have been approved by the Harrisonburg City Council to operate short-term rentals with special use permits. According to Airbnb.com, 78% of the rental locations — available to at least one adult — in Harrisonburg and the Shenandoah National Park area are already booked during JMU’s Parents Weekend.
The operation of a short-term rental — one with an occupant for 30 days or less — is illegal without the permit approval. Hosts must adhere to the regulations and requirements for their rental location, such as providing a parking space for each guest room available, and go through the application approval process, which takes roughly two months.
“Some people like the idea that they can host a traveler in the community; they love Harrisonburg, and they want to house people to be able to come here,” Assistant Director of the Department of Planning and Community Development Thanh Dang said. “It’s important to regulate [them] to protect the living spaces that people have so they don’t become commercial areas.”
Dang said the application fee is directed toward any advertisement the property may receive during the process. After Planning Commissions reviews the case, a public hearing is held to allow opposition or support claims. Neighbors and adjacent property owners are notified by letter that the permit is being requested prior to the hearing, along with the placement of a sign on the home property or street and a newspaper announcement.
If there’s support from the hearing, it’s passed on to City Council where another hearing is held to determine the status of the permit. Parks said this can impact Harrisonburg and local businesses greatly due to the flow of visitors throughout the year for university events, hiking or visiting other scenic areas in the Shenandoah Valley.
Parks said it’s too early to analyze whether this has had an impact on the high tourism in Harrisonburg thus far, but he expects to see effects within a year. Dang also said the original regulations that were adopted in March have been slightly changed over time so far, so there could be room for more improvement.
“There was an interest in amending our zoning origins to regulate [short term rentals],” Dang said. “A number of them were operating and not paying business or lodging taxes through the city, so there was interest to make a pathway for them to become legal and also to collect the taxes.”
Airbnb host David Kreider has used the upstairs of his home as a short-term rental in Harrisonburg for years and received his permit in August. Kreider said this produces an outlet for more people to visit Harrisonburg, no matter the reason, and has positively impacted him and his wife.
“We meet people from all over the world,” Kreider said. “It’s interesting for us, both having grown up overseas, to feel like the world is more connected [here] … In a way, it gets to connect us to other neighbors in the area and to new people who are from different parts of the world.”
Dang said the permit requirement also applies to any bed-and-breakfasts in the area that operate out of a single-family home, although the city hasn’t received any requests so far.
Parks said feedback over time will show what the city may need to change within the process or regulations.
“In general, this is a process that’s going to continue here. We don’t anticipate people stopping wanting short-term rentals,” Parks said. “We know every month, we are going to see some that we will consider, and we want to work with our residents to make that happen for them, but we’re also going to be keeping an eye on this and seeing if it needs to evolve.”
Approved renters can operate as Airbnb’s in their single-family or single detached single-family homes. Dang said the majority of applicants are families, couples or single individuals looking for revenue on top of their income.
“It’s part of what we, as the Friendly City, have to offer,” Kreider said. “We have a very diverse community and it leads to the connections we can build with people who come from wherever to see family members, friends or other events hosted in the area here. It fits beautifully to parts of our community and the values of our community, and it’s great to be a part of that.”
Contact Bridget Murphy at email@example.com. For more coverage of JMU and Harrisonburg news, follow the news desk on Twitter @BreezeNewsJMU.