DC Airbnb Laws Now Have Bite: City to Start Implementing on Jan. 10

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The Washington, D.C., government will begin implementing a slate of short-term rental laws that passed in 2018, with the first step beginning next Monday.

Under the new regulations, local homeowners who rent out rooms or homes for less than 30 days must be licensed, and the number of days that hosts can rent out their spaces are restricted. Residents can begin applying for the required license starting Jan. 10, and need to be licensed by April 10, when the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs will begin enforcing the rules, the department announced in late December. 

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Proponents say the hotly debated law was adopted in order to manage the proliferation of rentals on vacation platforms like Airbnb, Vrbo and others. In particular, it was designed to allow homeowners to make money off spare bedrooms, while preventing individuals and companies from managing at scale and skirting existing hospitality laws.

Under the new regulations, called the Short Term Rental Regulation Act of 2018, if the owner is present, the owner can rent out additional space in the home for as long as they please. If the owner is not present, the maximum allowed for rentals per year is 90 days.

In the early years, short-term rentals fell into a legal gray area in D.C., with those on the platform avoiding local regulations and taxes that applied to hotels and other traditional forms of hospitality. Critics worried that short-term rentals were driving up rents, particularly in dense cities where affordability was already a problem, and competing with hotels without being subject to the same rules.

Over the years, as the short-term rental sector matured, that mostly changed. In certain cities, including D.C., Airbnb and similar platforms now pay taxes on every stay, and many localities have passed laws directly targeting this evolving form of hospitality. New York City passed its own short-term rental law requiring hosts to register with the city last month, after years of debate.

In the D.C. region, laws regulating short-term rentals were adopted in Alexandria, Arlington County, and Montgomery County in 2016, and in Fairfax County as well.

Chava Gourarie can be reached at cgourarie@commercialobserver.com.

Update: This story has been updated to reflect that the DCRA will begin enforcing the short-term rental laws on April 10, not on Jan. 10 as was previously indicated. Residents can begin applying for a short-term rental license starting Jan. 10.