At a public hearing on Sept. 5 in Reston, Fairfax County residents voiced their concerns and requests regarding the county’s efforts to draft regulations governing short-term rentals (STRs). Through various home-sharing platforms (e.g., Airbnb and Vacation Rental by Owner), homeowners can offer spare couches, rooms, and even entire homes or apartments to visitors coming to the area as a way to make extra income.
Residents’ opinions, fears, and experiences with and about STRs ranged across the spectrum. Opposers of STRs cited all the potential bad things that STRs can bring to a neighborhood. We heard stories about wild parties, screeching cars in the middle of the night, and a lost sense of community. Supporters of STRs told stories about how they are able to pay their mortgage thanks to the ability to rent spare rooms. Families suffering from job loss and single parents can stay in their homes because of STRs, which, despite being currently illegal in Fairfax County, they do anyway.
Many of those at the hearing who spoke against STRs were older, 60s+, while those in favor were largely younger than 60s. Could the range of opinion be generational? (Raise your hand if you like change.) According to the county representatives, results from a survey showed some opposed at all costs, some in favor with no regulation, and many somewhere in between. The reality is, those on either extreme of the opinion spectrum will not get their way. Regardless how you feel about it, the sharing economy is here to stay, and the county will regulate it.
Before moving to the Town of Herndon, my husband and I lived in an unincorporated section of the county. Thirty percent of the 264 townhomes in our community were rentals. Many times over the 13 years we lived there, I called the police with noise complaints. I also served on the HOA, which meant having to listen to plenty of the typical complaints about renters (noisy, hoggers of parking spaces, trashers of property) as well as having to enforce HOA rules that renters never seemed to get right. Most of their ignorance could be pinned to their landlords who failed to inform their tenants about the rules. These same concerns were raised by the STR opposers. Their complaints are valid except that their experiences were with long-term renters, not STRs.
It would be easy to dump all renters into the same boat and send them down Bad Creek; however, that would be unfair. Not all renters engage in annoying or destructive behaviors, yet some homeowners surely do. So to oppose STRs simply because some renters are undesirable doesn’t hold water. At the same time, who wants to live in a neighborhood flooded with STRs where you never know who your neighbor is going to be from week to week?
We moved to Herndon a couple of years ago, buying a house with two spare rooms and a spare bathroom. We don’t need that space, yet it would be a shame to let it go unused. For us, Airbnb is an opportunity to earn extra income while also getting to meet people from all over the world.
We’re an international household and travelers ourselves, so Airbnb has been a perfect fit as hosts and guests. Several guests have told us that without the affordability of Airbnb, they wouldn’t have been able to come here for events such as weddings, funerals, and symposiums, or to visit the area. All of our guests seek a more personable local experience, something a hotel could never offer. Many of our guests have told us they wouldn’t — or couldn’t — have come to Herndon if they had to pay for a hotel.
As hosts, we are ambassadors for Herndon and the surrounding area. We guide guests toward local restaurants, shops, and sites of interest. Our guests spend money here. The money we earn goes right back into our home. The extra income has helped us pay for home improvements, such as new windows, a new roof, and enhanced landscaping. All these things benefit our neighborhood by helping to increase property values. Our neighbors’ right to the safe and peaceful enjoyment of their property is paramount. If any of our guests ever violated that right, we’d ask them to leave immediately. Airbnb backs us up on this. So far, our guests have been fantastic; several are repeat visitors. Most of our neighbors don’t even know we’re hosts. In other words, we are exactly the type of STR entrepreneurs Fairfax County should support. We are willing to be regulated in order that STRs do not become a problem for others in the area. Yes, there are rogue players out there, and they should be stopped for a lot of reasons. We’re willing to pay a modest and fair fee to support regulation.
Because we live in the Town of Herndon, we are currently operating legally (we’re not subjected to the County’s prohibition on STRs). But Herndon is drafting regulations and likely watching how the county handles this.
So we’d like the County and Town to consider the benefits that people like us bring to the community and region. STRs are not all alike, which means a one-size-fits-all law won’t suffice. It will take careful crafting to ensure protection of our communities against those who have no interests here other than to make as much money as possible while allowing entrepreneurs to operate responsibly and respectfully so that STRs enhance our communities.