On Saturday, the Arlington County Board “legalized” Airbnb and other such short-term housing rentals. While many homeowners had been participating for some time with no real fear of reprisal, the Board rightly felt like they needed to ensure others who questioned the legality of the practice could participate as well.
Based on the Board deliberations however, it was clear that the rushed regulations had not been fully vetted and were still in need of more work. The Board even took the unusual step of passing the regulations with the promise to return to them at the next meeting to make additional changes.
When coupled with the fact the General Assembly is likely to address the issue in the new year, the Board has created a great deal of uncertainty about how these regulations will actually work moving forward.
Recognizing the regulations were not ready for prime time, John Vihstadt suggested the Board effectively give an interim “wink and nod” to homeowners that the practice would be made legal when the regulations were ready.
Unfortunately, Vihstadt’s common sense suggestion to delay a vote received no support from the other four members of the Board.
Arlington’s new towing ordinance also met with resistance this week.
As I wrote back in 2015 when Jay Fisette raised this issue, the problems with towing practices are not new.
Around 2000, I sat down to eat in the now-closed Taco Bell on Wilson Boulevard. A few minutes later, one of my fellow patrons sprinted out of the restaurant as his car was being hoisted into the air by a tow truck. Later we learned an “unmarked spotter” had identified his car for towing because he had first walked to the ATM next door to get cash before ordering his Taco Bell dinner.
The car owner showed the tow truck driver his Taco Bell receipt, but was told it did not matter because he had left the premises.
The use of spotters and removal of the property owner from the process leads to incidents where drivers have legitimate gripes when their car is towed. But they have virtually no redress. They have to pay the exorbitant towing fee and possibly complain to the county later.
It is certainly understandable that business owners feel the new measures create burdensome requirements. They have a right to ensure that parking spaces in their lots are reserved for employees, patrons or anyone else they choose for that matter.
In the Taco Bell incident I witnessed, the manager on duty said his hands were tied to stop the towing under the terms of the contract. Assuming it was true, then there really is a problem.
And despite a clear warning shot 18 months ago to voluntarily address aggressive towing practices, County Board members remained unsure any positive changes were forthcoming. So, the Board acted.
Now towing companies have until July 1st of next year to work with the county on the changes. Hopefully everyone can find a middle ground.
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