Is Airbnb legal in Arlington? It’s hard to tell, and that’s a problem.
Airbnb certainly is doing business in Arlington. Airbnb’s website currently boasts 300+ Arlington rentals, including:
- a “cozy Ballston 1bd” @ $45 per night,
- a $350 per night “huge 3bd” one block from Metro, and
- hundreds more all over Arlington.
At the same time as it promotes these listings, Airbnb is passing the buck of regulatory and tax compliance to Arlington property owners via a “help center” on the Airbnb website:
When deciding whether to become an Airbnb host, it is important for you to understand the laws in your county. As a platform and marketplace we do not provide legal advice, but we want to give you some useful links that may help you better understand laws and regulations in Arlington County.
The website then lists some of the laws and regulations that might apply to Arlington property owners who use Airbnb’s services:
- zoning ordinance
- building code
- short-term rental building registration and record-keeping
- transient occupancy tax
- other rules (like those set by condo boards, home owners associations, etc.)
Finally, this Airbnb website urges property owners to contact Arlington’s Department of Community Planning, Housing and Development (CPHD) or other county agencies or to “consult a local lawyer or tax professional.”
Airbnb nowhere mentions the laws or regulations that might apply to Airbnb itself.
Where have we seen this movie before? Although there are differences, the name Uber comes to mind. Last year, we began the Uber conversation when some argued that Uber was operating taxis illegally in Arlington. This year, some are arguing that Airbnb is operating hotels illegally in Arlington.
As was the case with Uber, in a Dillon Rule state like Virginia, the appropriate regulatory framework for a service like Airbnb must first be established at the state level not the local level. The need for the state to act now is underscored by the fact that the legality of Airbnb’s operations already has been questioned in:
Right now, Arlington County should NOT go down the path of cities like Richmond, Charlottesville and Roanoke by spending time and energy looking for strictly local ways to regulate and tax Airbnb or its participating property owners. Instead, Arlington first should focus on seeking a fair and uniform state-wide regulatory framework for Airbnb and entities like it.
A Virginia state-wide solution ultimately might lead to an agreement by Airbnb and similar entities to act as the tax collection agents for localities like Arlington. Airbnb already has worked out such deals in D.C., San Francisco and Portland, Oregon.