After months of contentious debate between Arlington homeowners, the city recently issued its first short-term rental permits, which are often listed on services such as Airbnb.
Only properties in certain geographic areas will be allowed, said Richard Gertson, City of Arlington planning and development services assistant director.
There are currently about 280 existing short-term rental properties in the entire city, with about 105 of the properties found in the eligible zoning districts and the short-term rental zone, Gertson said. Any existing short-term rentals outside the allowed areas will need to cease operations.
A short-term rental is defined as the renting or leasing of single-family properties, or apartments, for a period of fewer than 30 days. Short-term rentals were previously banned city-wide. But in April, the city voted to allow residential properties zoned as medium density or multifamily to apply for permits. The city has also established a designated short-term rental zone that is anchored by the Entertainment District and extends about one mile from its center.
Short-term rental owners within the allowed areas will either need to obtain a permit or cease operations by Oct. 1.
Single-family structures in all nonresidential and mixed-use districts that were already operating as short-term rentals before Aug. 1 will be allowed to continue, once obtaining a permit. Property owners who previously registered to pay the city’s hotel occupancy tax — a tax placed on the price of the rental — have until Jan. 31 to either obtain a permit or cease operations.
“The council felt like that was a fair balance between all of their respective interests,” Gertson said.
About 4,900 groups of single-family homes, townhomes, duplexes and apartment units are currently eligible for permitting.
When looking at the data, Gertson said a greater percentage of short-term rentals are concentrated in or around the Entertainment District.
“All the way from 6% to about 11 or 12%, and there’s no other area within the city of Arlington where you have those high of percentages,” he said. “Most areas of the city of Arlington were less than 1%.”
Before the city came to this decision, Jeremy Fenceroy, Short-Term Accommodations for Residents and Tourism president, said he made multiple proposals to the city that wouldn’t result in banning short-term rentals.
“This is not a compromise between short-term rental owners by any means,” Fenceroy said. “It was simply a compromise between council members and those few Arlington citizens who wanted to ban them altogether.”
Arlington resident Jessica Black, who started the grassroots group, Moms Against STRs, said she started becoming involved after she found out she had a short-term rental in her neighborhood.
Black said as a parent, she could not support the idea of having strangers continuously moving into her neighborhood because she believes it will disrupt the safety of the community.
She said because short-term rentals were always banned in Arlington, she purchased her home under that understanding.
“When we bought our home, we bought our home in reliance on that,” she said. “I wouldn’t walk here if I thought a Motel 6 could open up next door.”
Black, who fought to pass the existing ordinance restricting short-term rentals to districts and zones, said it’s a good starting place before allowing them in other areas.
“It’s a fair compromise. It gives the city a chance to put it in a small area where they can see, ‘Can the police manage this? Can code compliance manage this?’” she said.
Taner Özdil, landscape architecture associate professor and Arlington resident, compares the use of short-term rentals to university parking lots.
Özdil said that over the summer, parking lots are not fully utilized because of the lack of people coming to the university. Similarly, short-term rental use varies by season.
He said because of its temporary nature, short-term rentals may not be the most efficient use of space. However, his hope is that the rentals help rejuvenate the community and contribute to public services through taxes.
As a professor and Arlington resident who is affected by city decisions, he said he encourages city leaders and planners to optimize the properties and “reach out to their ally, UTA,” to enlist researchers and students to study the policies and guidelines set in place.
“We are embedded into this community, we love this community, we are part of the community,” he said. “We would like to be able to actually engage and inform our community.”