New restrictions on short-term rentals in the District through home-sharing services like Airbnb could finally go into effect in the coming months, as officials gear up to start enforcing a law passed by the D.C. Council last year.
The Zoning Commission has scheduled a hearing for Oct. 17 on proposed amendments to the city’s zoning rules to allow for home-sharing across many residential areas, according to online records. Lawmakers have been anxiously awaiting action from the commission on the matter, despite passing new short-term rental rules last November that prompted a clash with Mayor Muriel Bowser.
Most home-sharing is technically illegal in the city at the moment, though District inspectors have largely declined to police it too closely. The new law would officially legalize the practice, though it would be subject to a series of restrictions favored largely by hotel executives and workers designed to curb short-term rentals. For instance, property owners will be barred from renting out second homes, or renting spare rooms in their primary residence for more than 90 days a year.
Bowser fiercely opposed the council’s changes and warned that the law may be unconstitutional, arguing that home-sharing has thrived without the council’s interference. Nevertheless, the legislation passed unanimously.
The new rules are set to officially take effect on Oct. 1, but Council Chairman Phil Mendelson has repeatedly warned that the Zoning Commission will need to take action before the law can actually work, in practice. Namely, officials need to conform the District’s zoning code to make short-term rentals a permitted “accessory use” for many properties in the city.
The commission is set to consider a series of changes this fall, adding a definition of short-term rentals to the regulations and stipulating that they’ll be acceptable uses in a variety of areas zoned residential or mixed-use buildings.
Crucially, the proposed zoning changes come courtesy of Mendelson’s office, not anyone in Bowser’s administration.
The chairman has pressed for months for the Office of Planning to submit a report to the commission, outlining potential text amendments to the code instead. But staff there still have not done so, spokespeople for both Mendelson and the planning office confirmed.
Mendelson accused Bowser this spring of deliberately slow-walking that report in an attempt to stall the implementation of the Airbnb-focused rules, though District planners insisted they simply needed more time. The chairman didn’t find that argument convincing, and worked through the budget to compel the planning office to release the report.
At first he threatened to withhold any permits for new government buildings — when that attracted some push back, he settled instead for adding a provision to the budget barring the city from issuing permits for any construction at the RFK stadium site or at Franklin Park, a downtown space that’s planned for a full renovation.
But instead of waiting on a report from OP, Mendelson decided to submit his own proposed changes, and invited planners to comment on them. Planning office spokeswoman Mekdy Alemayehu says staff there is working on something now, but they haven’t settled yet on whether they’ll submit a report before the Oct. 17 hearing.
Airbnb previously estimated that roughly 6,500 people in the District made use of the service in 2017, generating a total of $82 million in income.