On Wednesday, Thea Tupelo-Schneck was sweeping and folding sheets after her most recent visitors departed. She lives with her husband and three kids in one half of their Albemarle County home, and they rent the three bedrooms, kitchen, living room, porch and garage to short-term visitors.
“It’s a lot like having a foreign exchange student or friends from out of town,” she said. “They had a little boy who didn’t speak a word of English. My little boy didn’t speak a word of Chinese, but they managed to play badminton out on the lawn.”
Tupelo-Schneck first listed her house on Airbnb three years ago when she realized her job would not allow her to pay off her student loans within the next decade. She was teaching the Alexander Technique, a form of mindfulness of daily movements often used by actors and performers, and her income was inconsistent.
She has a permit from the county to operate her Airbnb but did not know she needed one when she started. She only learned about the requirement when she saw recent news coverage of the county’s plans to update their rules for bed and breakfasts.
“The minute we read that there were regulations, we applied,” she said.
There are many homestays — the county’s new official terminology for tourist lodging and bed and breakfasts — operating without permits in the county. One of the county’s goals in updating its ordinance is to bring such errant homestays into the fold.
“Our hope is that a very high percentage of people will come into compliance willingly with our assistance after we educate them and work with them,” said Amelia McCulley, the county’s director of zoning.
After two years of work by county staff and elected and appointed officials, McCulley on Tuesday presented a final draft of the homestay ordinance to the Albemarle Planning Commission. The commissioners unanimously recommended the new rules to the Board of Supervisors, with the suggestion that they discuss several points that the commission disagreed with staff or did not reach a consensus on.
Two Albemarle residents concerned about their neighbors operating homestays spoke at the public hearing. One, a teacher named Dawn Baber, said that her new neighbors plan to pay for their mortgage through Airbnb.
“Now, they’ve also brought in two tiny homes and a yurt, and they have it online, prepared to rent. I don’t want to be mean. I don’t want to burden them, but that is hurting me and my home values and what I’ve worked for for the past 28 years,” Baber said.
The housing study recently completed for the Thomas Jefferson Planning District Commission by Partners for Economic Solutions listed Airbnb as one of the factors decreasing affordability in Charlottesville, Albemarle and surrounding counties.
The study found that in 2010, 2% of housing in Albemarle was vacant and reserved for occasional uses like second homes and Airbnb. In the meantime, rents are increasing 5.8% annually in major apartment buildings in the region. Median sales prices for houses in the city and county increased from $325,000 in 2017 to $349,900 in 2018.
County staff tried to balance reasonable homestay uses with the concerns about affordability, nuisance to neighbors and the demand to develop rural areas that homestays might cause.
The proposed ordinance addresses nuisance concerns by limiting the number of guest rooms, requiring space between the homestay and neighbors and requiring off-street parking. Homestays would not be allowed in apartment buildings or townhomes, and someone must be available to attempt to respond to neighbors’ complaints within 30 minutes.
Only residents of large properties in rural areas would be allowed to rent their entire house — something currently not allowed in the county — and the number of days they could rent the whole house would be limited to 45 a year.
Homestay managers like Tupelo-Schneck who are complying with county rules would be able to operate under the same rules as their existing permits.
One rule without a consensus at the Planning Commission meeting was whether renters should be allowed to use parts of their houses as homestays. Commissioner Julian Bivins proposed that the commission or Board of Supervisors only allow homeowners that privilege in the county’s urban neighborhoods.
“I’m concerned that … that actually will start to dilute the neighborhoods that we have in some of the close-in parts of our county,” Bivins said. “Given that today those areas tend to be more accessible and people are closer to one another, the aspect of living together is different than it may be on 5 acres or even outside of the residential area.”
Planning Commission Chairman Tim Keller said that one issue with that approach is blocking less privileged primary residents from income accessible to wealthier homeowners.
The TJPDC housing study found that 55% of white, urban households own their own home, but only 29% of African American households and 31% of Hispanic and Asian households own a home. The report also noted that some African American families in the region have passed their homes on to their children without a formal deed, which can create obstacles in qualifying for certain programs.
The commission recommended that the Board of Supervisors discuss the owner versus resident manager question along with several other concerns when they vote on whether to adopt the new rules for county homestays.