Isle of Wight supervisors legalize short-term rentals in 4-1 vote

Published 12:48 pm Monday, January 1, 2024

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Isle of Wight County supervisors voted 4-1 on Dec. 14 to legalize and create a process for regulating short-term rentals.

The adopted changes to Isle of Wight’s zoning ordinance specify the county is to send written notice by certified mail to the last known address of the proposed short-term rental’s neighbors, and may issue a permit for the use if no written objection is received within 30 days. If a neighbor objects, the owner of the proposed rental would be required to go through the process of obtaining a conditional use permit, which requires public hearings and votes by the county’s Planning Commission and Board of Supervisors.

Prior to the Dec. 14 change, the county’s zoning ordinance had allowed the rental of up to two bedrooms to two unrelated people in owner-occupied homes but not the whole-house short-term rentals made popular on websites like AirBnB and Vrbo .

Isle of Wight officials had been deferring enforcement of the de facto countywide ban against an estimated dozen homes operating as short-term rentals in violation of the countywide ban.

The specified approval process is nearly identical to what’s already in place for residents who apply to add an accessory mobile home to their properties for use by extended family members. In addition to obtaining a permit, short-term rental owners are required under the revised ordinance to pay an annual $35 registration fee. Failure to register within 30 days of advertising a short-term rental would trigger a $500 penalty for each day past the deadline the property remains unregistered. The ordinance further requires that a property’s registration number be listed on all advertisements.

Board of Supervisors Chairman William McCarty, who in November had criticized the $1,200 fee associated with applying for a conditional use permit as an “undue burden” on would-be landlords, cast the dissenting vote on Vice Chairman Joel Acree’s motions to adopt the ordinance changes and create the short-term rental registry. 

The adopted ordinance changes are less restrictive than a November version that would have required conditional use permits for all short-term rentals regardless of whether any written objection had been received. McCarty, who prior to the votes had motioned unsuccessfully to postpone the vote for a second month, argued at the Dec. 12 meeting that the latest changes still gave too much power to a “disgruntled neighbor” to potentially force someone to go through the monthslong and costly conditional use permit process.

Unchanged from the version of the ordinance the county’s Planning Commission advanced in October are provisions that define short-term rentals as fee-based stays of fewer than 30 days and cap the number of overnight guests ages 18 and up at two per bedroom. The maximum number of occupants in a rental home at any given time is capped at twice the maximum number of allowed overnight guests. Only the maximum number of overnight guests would be allowed between the hours of 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. 

Another provision allows the county to revoke a short-term rental’s permit in the event of three or more “substantiated complaints of violation of applicable state or local laws” within one calendar year, failure to maintain compliance with any zoning regulation, or two or more failures by the rental’s “authorized agent” to respond within 30 minutes to “address conditions occurring” at the property.

In the event a homeowners association prohibits short-term rentals, the ordinance states that prohibition would supersede the new approval process.