Northampton Needs To Regulate Short-Term Rentals

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Dear Editor:

We have all heard the refrain that the Eastern Shore of Virginia is often “50 years behind the times,” which is an overstatement but not necessarily all that bad in the opinion of many who call the ESVA home. Indeed, lagging behind the over-populated, dense, highly taxed, and chaotic rest of the industrialized world offers a great opportunity to learn from the mistakes made in the name of progress. But the trick is to learn from those missteps, rather than to blindly follow down that path of no return.

One of the mistakes other municipalities made was a failure to regulate short-term rentals (STRs). After that error resulted in unintended consequences including affordable housing shortages and disturbance to neighbors in residential areas including noise, parking, traffic, and disruption of the quiet enjoyment of neighborhoods, countless localities have clamped down on this use.

In contrast, Northampton County voted 4-1 in April 2019 to allow short-term rentals  by right. Then-Supervisor Duer (the lone voice of reason) said he thought the county was “chasing money” by simply taxing and licensing these uses, ignoring the consequences that have now come to haunt us in the form of the wholesale loss of long-term and affordable rental units among other ill effects. Doubling down, the 2020- 2040 Comprehensive Plan supports allowing accessory dwellings “by right,” with no notice to neighbors. At the same time, many feel that we are in an affordable housing availability crisis and it is hard to argue we are not.

Sample ordinances include: designating zones for STRs; limiting the number of nights per year units can be rented; requiring only primary residences to be STRs with the owners present; barring nonowner-occupied STRs in residential areas; requiring parking only in front of or on the property of an STR; barring STRs in residential zones, allowing them in only commercial areas; requiring mandatory yearly inspections; setting massive fines for operating an STR without a license; limiting guests to two per bedroom; enforcing advertising restrictions; and denying applications for detached homes from becoming STRs in residential areas.

Without firm and enforceable regulation of STRs, any home in Northampton County can be turned into a surrogate commercial motel, and many are becoming just that, leaving some Northampton County rental home seekers living in their cars.

Ken Dufty,
Exmore Business Owner