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The Right Note: Take a Deep Breath on Airbnb

Mark KellyThe Right Note is a weekly opinion column. The views and opinions expressed in the column are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ARLnow.com.

The Arlington County Board is considering the passage of Airbnb regulations as early as December. The regulations leave a lot of unanswered questions, and here are just a few.

Should Arlington keep the requirement that the location must be the primary residence of the owner? Why couldn’t the owner of a rental unit use Airbnb to fill an empty space temporarily while he was waiting for a long-term renter?

Should Arlington keep the requirement that a homeowner obtain a business license for using Airbnb and should there be a minimum threshold a homeowner must meet before the regulations apply? What if someone just wants to use Airbnb to rent their home out for the Presidential Inauguration or the one week a year they are on vacation? Do we need to force them to abide by the same rules as someone who wants to rent a home four months out of the year?

And how does Arlington County plan to actually enforce the regulations once passed?

But maybe the biggest question is, why the rush to do it now?

Like it or not, Virginia is a Dillon Rule state. And all indications are the General Assembly will address the issue of Airbnb regulation in the 2017 session. The first attempt earlier this year did not result in a final legislative vehicle, but much work has been done on the issue in the intervening months. Since the General Assembly regulation would almost certainly pre-empt any Arlington rules, it could create massive confusion for Airbnb owners who would have to comply with two different sets of rules just months apart.

It is also unlikely that county staff has fully digested the implications of the successful Nashville lawsuit, which struck down the Airbnb regulations in that city in late October. And it’s not just Nashville facing lawsuits.

New York, which is imposing $7500 fines for violations of its regulations, is being sued. Chicago is being sued for an ordinance that among other things, says an Airbnb owner’s residence can be searched at any time without a warrant. San Francisco and other cities are facing lawsuits as well.

Arlington could learn something about what the courts will allow when it comes to regulating these private homeowners, who on average are earning just a few thousand dollars each year. And Arlington could save taxpayers the time and money used to defend itself against a lawsuit.

The emergence of the sharing economy should cause us to rethink our approach toward government regulations. Some may think Airbnb should not be regulated at all. Others may wish the regulations would go even farther.

But with all the uncertainty looming, Arlington would be well-served by taking this vote off the December agenda.

Mark Kelly is the chairman of the 8th District Republican Committee, a former Arlington GOP Chairman and two-time Republican candidate for Arlington County Board.

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