VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — Short-term rental owners in Virginia Beach have continued to have frustrations, years after the city tightened safety regulations for property owners.
Some of them continue to operate illegally because they tell us they’re having trouble getting permits approved. City leaders acknowledge there’s a lot of work to do on this evolving issue.
“This is a very important part of my life,” said Mark Keller.
Keller has a small one-bedroom suite inside his Virginia Beach home that he rents out to people visiting the Oceanfront. He switched from a long-term rental to short-term a few years ago because it triples what he can bring in revenue-wise.
Keller retired in 2012 after flying F-14’s and F-18’s in the Navy and said this is how he makes ends meet.
Keller’s home is outside the Oceanfront resort short-term rental overlay district map, but because he was operating prior to 2021 when these changes were enacted, he believes his property should have been grandfathered in.
In the past year though, he’s had to go to court several times due to complaints of operating an illegal short-term rental.
“I get served with a summons for operating illegal short term rental,” Keller said. “So I represented myself. I went into General District Court, and the city’s argument was that I am not a home share. I’m a short-term rental because I have a door that’s locked from both sides while my guests are here because I don’t want my guests coming in through my living room. The judge dismissed it and looked at the city and says, ‘hey, if you want to go after these things, you need to fix your ordinance.'”
The city defines a short-term rental as a room offered for less than 30 days, and the owner lives in the home.
“I mean I’m here, it’s in my house,” Keller said. “You can’t cough downstairs without me hearing it upstairs.”
Keller said he’s not sure where the complaints are coming from. He doesn’t believe they’re coming from his neighbors, but instead from people from all over the city upset about the rentals.
In various City Council meetings, Virginia Beach homeowners have complained about how short-term rentals are bringing “different” guests to the area.
“A lot of folks are concerned about neighborhood protection about short-term rentals being every other house or every house in this precious old beach neighborhood,” said District 6 City Councilman Worth Remick.
Since 2019, there have been more than 2,100 complaints about short-term rentals — most of those happen during the peak tourist season. An inquiry to the city found there were about 400 complaints between Memorial Day and Labor Day in 2023. This compares to nearly 300 in the summer of 2022.
The top complaints: operating a short-term rental illegally, not having proper signage and parking concerns.
“Most of the complaints about STRs (short-term rentals) are about getting them approved and not necessarily noise, but there are some bad apples that ruin the bunch,” Remick said. “But there are some good STR owners out there that do care about their short-term rentals.”
Remick acknowledges the city needs to up their game. He said the approval process needs to be quicker and regulations need to be cleaned up. He said one of the biggest hold-ups right now is getting a structural engineer to sign off on your property because they’re so busy.
“That’s what’s hanging up the process is some of these regulations are needed, but maybe could be more efficient,” Remick said.
And while Keller sits in limbo, he said he just wants the city to clear up the confusion. He said while he’d gladly operate as a home share, he’d really like to get his short-term rental permit in case he ever decides to move.
“I own this house, I’m an American,” Keller said. “I need to earn money. I’d like to use this as long as I’m not bothering anybody else.”
“We have hosted thousands of guests here that love our homes,” said Virginia Beach short-term rental owner Pam Dollaway. “We’re very involved in our rentals where, you know, we have a zero-tolerance policy for partying or loud noise.”
Dollaway and her husband operate eight short-term rentals at the Oceanfront. They have been issued multiple summons to go to court in Virginia Beach over illegal operation and they’re fed up.
“I think the council and the city is getting pressure from the hotels [that] don’t want Airbnb’s in Virginia Beach,” Dollaway said, “but we really need alternative housing in Airbnb rather than just the Oceanfront.”
She said they aren’t opposed to regulations, but they want them to be fair.
“It’s really indistinguishable between a short-term rental of 30 days or less, or 30 days or more,” Dollaway said, “like are you saying that if you have a rental of 31 days, they aren’t going to party? They’re not going to be disruptive to the neighborhood, but if you have one 30 days or less, they’re going to be?”
Dollaway said they live nearby so they monitor their rentals closely and have never had a problem. She believes the short-term rentals offer something the hotels don’t — affordability in these trying times.
“They have the ability to cook meals together, do their laundry and just [spend] quality time together as a family,” Dollaway said.
Keller feels the same way.
“I offer a different product,” Keller said. “You know, a young couple with with a child, you know, do they want to stay in a hotel room or would they like to be able to prepare a meal?”
And while rental owners like Dollaway and Keller said they aren’t trying to compete with hotels, Remick said they’re all targeting the same people.
“Hotels have a higher standard for rules and regulations than short-term rentals,” Remick said, “so [it’s a] somewhat unfair playing field, but they do cater to the traveling tourist.”
“It seems silly to me,” Keller said. “I think there’s some motivation to shut us down because those guys don’t want to compete.”
But the hotels are also limited to certain parts of the city, which makes it difficult if you’d like to visit another area for business or personal reasons. Some owners said it also hurts businesses, who don’t always see the benefits of out-of-town visitors.
“Those businesses aren’t going to be able to see any of that foot traffic,” said Paul Telkamp, who operates SkyRun Vacation Rentals of Virginia Beach. “No one’s going to be driving past their business and go, hey, let’s stop in here.”
Telkamp, who also has a few properties he’d like to rent out in different areas of Virginia Beach, said with all these regulations and restrictions, it’s making people not even want to rent out their homes anymore, and some are even taking legal action against the city.
“There’s a limited number of people that are honestly complaining about the short-term rentals,” Telkamp said, “and they’re just trying to make it harder for anyone else.”
Remick said he understands the concerns about short-term rentals, and that’s why he initiated a task force of city leaders, representatives from planning and code enforcement and residents to look into what could be done better.
“There are a lot of unregistered short-term rentals out there that are hung up in the process of rules and regulations that we are going to talk about in this task force,” Remick said.
Remick said the city doesn’t want to prohibit people making money, but at the same time, it does want to protect neighborhoods.
“Short-term rentals serve a certain place and point here at the resort, but not in neighborhoods that raise families and have your normal life,” Remick said.
Remick said they hope to start meeting in March and iron out some of these concerns by summer.