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FAQ About Proposal to Regulate Airbnb

UPDATE: Council President Floreen and I asked the Planning Department to review Airbnb regulations from across the country, provide additional opportunities for public input, and make a revised recommendation to the Planning Board and Council. The Planning Department has announced a public hearing on July 18. Read more about their effort or contact Planning staff here.

 

I recently introduced a legislative package to regulate Airbnb in Montgomery County. Here are some basic information about the legislation that I hope answer some of the most frequently asked questions.

What does this legislation do?

This legislative package, Zoning Text Amendment 16-03 and Bill 2-16, works together to regulate short term rentals in Montgomery County. The Zoning Text Amendment would allow a Bed and Breakfast in residential and mixed-use zones under certain circumstances.  The Bill would establish a process and standards for licensing all dwellings used as a Bed and Breakfast, modernize the licensing requirements for hotels, and delete code sections pertaining to other forms of short term rentals (hostels, tourist homes, tourist cabin parks, rooming houses, and boarding houses) that have already been disallowed in the zoning code. The legislation would apply to all short term rentals, including those arranged through sites like Airbnb and HomeAway. Renters on Airbnb and similar sites would be required to be a licensed Bed & Breakfast in Montgomery County, and obey several new rules designed to protect visitors, neighbors, and hosts. This legislation follows legislation passed in 2015 that required short-term rentals to pay hotel/motel taxes (the current rate is 7%).

 

Aren’t short-term rentals already legal?

No, rentals for less than 30 days are illegal under current law unless they are licensed as a hotel or a Bed & Breakfast. However, this prohibition is weakly enforced, and there are hundreds of Montgomery County listings on sites like Airbnb and HomeAway.

 

Does the legislation protect existing residential communities?

The legislation includes three major protections to ensure that Airbnb does not change the character of existing residential communities:

  1. All hosts will be required to get a license (through an online process) and to certify that the units they rent meet all safety, parking and other requirements in County Code. This means the County will know where these rentals are occurring, can inspect the rentals as needed, and can close down rentals that are not properly licensed.
  2. All units that are rented must be the primary residence of the host. This means that investors cannot use multiple homes for short-term rentals (unlike long-term rentals, where this is allowed). It means that legal rentals will have an owner who lives at that address and is responsible for the property and relationships with neighbors.
  3. The number of renters allowed in a rental unit is limited to the same number allowed in any residential property – no more than five unrelated persons or a family of any size.  This rule prevents any homeowner from legally turning their basement into a hostel. The parking allowances will not be greater than any other household would be allowed.

These properties also will continue to be subject to county laws that protect neighborhoods: housing and building code rules governing the safety and appearance of homes in the County, the County’s Noise Ordinance restricting noise levels, all parking restrictions, zoning rules governing the allowed uses in different zones, and many other legal protections.

Rather than stretching county enforcement resources thin attempting to shut down all short term rentals, this framework will allow the county to focus on problem actors who may violate quality of life laws, whether they are short term renters, long term renters, or homeowners.

 

Won’t this increase housing prices in the County by diverting housing supply to short-term rentals?

This has certainly been an issue in other areas with very tight housing markets and high levels of tourism like New York and San Francisco. The requirement that the housing unit be the principal residence of the host will prevent investors (or anyone) from being able to legally turn a unit into a full-time Airbnb rental and should therefore minimize the impact on housing supply and prices.

 

Will these units have to pay the same taxes as hotels?

Yes. Last year, the Council approved legislation requiring all short-term rentals to pay the County’s hotel/motel tax. Both the County and the State of Maryland are currently working to develop an arrangement with Airbnb and similar sites to have the listing company collect the tax from the host and remit it directly to the appropriate jurisdiction. Airbnb already does this in other jurisdictions. The County has also begun seeking the tax directly from hosts. This process will be aided by a licensing requirement which will require certification that all taxes have been paid.

 

What is the process for approving these changes? How can I express my views?

There will be a public hearing on the legislation at 7:30pm on March 8 at the Council offices in Rockville. Learn more and sign up to speak here. You can also provide written comments for the record at any time by emailing county.council@montgomerycountymd.gov.  After the March 8th Public Hearing, the legislation will be heard by the Planning, Housing, and Economic Development Committee, which will make a recommendation to the full County Council.

Please feel free to contact my office at any time with questions or comments at Councilmember.Riemer@montgomerycountymd.gov.

 

What about existing Bed & Breakfasts?

There have been six Bed & Breakfasts approved under the old rules in Montgomery County. All but one have had those approvals revoked by the Board of Appeals because the owner abandoned the use. Any other Bed & Breakfasts currently operating in the County are evidently operating without a license and would be required to operate under the same rules as other short-term rentals in the proposed legislation.

 

Are there any additional parking requirements?

The legislation does not impose any additional parking requirements over those that apply to residential property generally, but it does limit the number of occupants allowed at any time to the size of 1 household (5 unrelated individuals or a family of any size) and the unit must meet the existing parking requirements for their zone.

 

What about Homeowners/Condo Association Rules or Rental Agreements?

This legislation does not supersede other legal restrictions on the use of property. Rental agreements, homeowners association covenants, or condominium agreements may preclude a tenant or property owner from using their housing unit for any rental purpose.  If these restrictions on property rental are violated, it is the responsibility of the landlord, homeowner’s association or condominium association to enforce their restrictions.

 

Why is there so much about hotels in the Bill?

On the advice of the Council’s land use attorney, we took the opportunity to do some technical clean up to the hotel section of the County Code. This code had not been amended in decades. These changes are largely stylistic and have no bearing on the Airbnb issue. Hotels and Bed & Breakfasts (i.e. short-term rentals) remain separate legal categories with very different requirements for licensing, inspections, etc.

 

Why not just leave the zoning law in place that makes them illegal?

Although short term rentals are not legal, there are already hundreds of listings on these websites in our county. Our resources are limited, and enforcing a complete prohibition is not realistic. In addition, most or nearly all of these listings are posted by residents who have a reasonable and responsible use in mind. Allowing responsible rentals allows the County to focus our enforcement resources on listings that are truly disruptive to the community. There are also many ways in which responsible short term rentals can augment the County’s stock of hotel rooms to provide benefit to the community, including providing short term stays for business travelers and tourists; family and friends of medical patients at facilities like NIH; families temporarily displaced from their permanent residence by fire, flooding, or renovations; and others looking for a more “homey” experience. Not to mention, the opportunity for homeowners who have extra space to make additional income – including seniors and empty nesters. This application of internet technology is here to stay, and the best course for county government is to adapt to that reality.

 

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Outcomes of Silver Spring Placemaking Workshops to Planning Board

See the following press release about my work with the Planning Department on our Silver Spring Placemaking initiative.

County Councilmember Hans Riemer Presents Outcomes of Silver Spring Placemaking Workshops to Planning Board
by Bridget Schwiesow on January 16th, 2015

Silver Spring, MD – At its latest meeting, the Montgomery County  Planning Board, part of The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission  (M-NCPPC), learned about the ideas generated at three Silver Spring Placemaking Workshops held in October and November 2014. County Councilmember Hans Riemer, who led the public placemaking effort, opened the presentation to the Board along with Parks and Planning staff and representatives of the Silver Spring Urban District on Thursday, January 15. The purpose of the workshops was to enhance the identity of the Downtown Silver Spring area and improve opportunities in key locations, while building on the 2000 Silver Spring Sector Plan.

“The whole process was fantastic and we had such a positive reaction from the community,” said Riemer. “Now we want to make sure the workshops contribute to meaningful change in Downtown Silver Spring.”

Councilmember Tom Hucker, whose Council district includes Silver Spring, said “I was very excited to participate in the Placemaking series. We identified some great ideas to enhance Silver Spring and I look forward to seeing them realized.”

Learn more about the Silver Spring Placemaking project.

What is placemaking?
This approach to the planning, design and management of public spaces involves listening to the people who live, work and play in a particular area about their needs and aspirations. The information from the community is then used to create a common vision for a specific place.
The Silver Spring Placemaking Workshops were initiated by Councilmember Riemer in collaboration with the Montgomery County Planning and Parks Departments, and the Silver Spring Urban District. County planners joined Riemer, community residents and other participants to explore the brainstorming sessions and brought in creative ways of enhancing three downtown locations.

Three workshops for three places
The first workshop, held at the Planning Department’s headquarters on October 15, explored the creation of civic space in the vicinity of the Transit Center.  Enhancements to Gene Lynch Urban Park and ways to improve the pedestrian experience from the Transit Center to Downtown Silver Spring via Wayne Avenue were examined, along with looking for temporary green spaces and bike service facilities in this location.

The second workshop, held at the Denizens Brewing Company on October 29, focused on the urban character of the Ripley District and enhancing pedestrian experiences in the area to heighten community identity.

The third workshop at the Silver Spring Civic Building on November 5 examined the areas immediately surrounding the proposed Purple Line station in Downtown Silver Spring that are slated for high-density development. Participants weighed design options, including pedestrian-friendly streetscapes, surrounding the Metro Plaza site (located on the northeast corner of East-West Highway and Colesville Road), a prominent gateway to Downtown Silver Spring from the District of Columbia. Ways to improve  the pedestrian connectivity from the Transit Center to South Silver Spring and the Blairs was also studied.

Plan to implement workshop concepts
As part of the January 15 presentation to the Planning Board, the Silver Spring Placemaking team recommended specific improvements to the three areas as a result of the workshops. These action items range from enhanced crosswalks, clearer signage and new bike lanes to outdoor movies, public art and food trucks. For each recommendation, the team suggested a “champion” was needed including public agencies and corporate sponsors, to implement the change.

“One of the reasons we held the workshops was to enhance the Silver Spring Master Plan so we have a head start when that master planning effort comes back around for updating,” says Robert Kronenberg, the Planning Department’s Chief of Area 1, who helped organize the events. “The Silver Spring Placemaking Workshops are the first of many we will be doing in the County. They set the stage of what is to come.”

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Increased service for Silver Spring circulator bus

ROCKVILLE, Md., January 15, 2015—Montgomery County Councilmember Hans Riemer today lauded Montgomery County’s dramatically increased free bus service in downtown Silver Spring. The Silver Spring circulator, also known as “VanGo,” will now run later into the evening and on Saturdays.

The new VanGo schedule is the following: Monday-Thursday: 7 a.m.-12 midnight; Friday: 7 a.m.-2 a.m.; Saturday: 7 a.m.-2 a.m. Buses will run every 12 minutes. Previously, VanGo service ran only from 7 a.m.-7 p.m. on weekdays.

Circulator stops are located at the Silver Spring Metro Station; 13thand Kennet Street; East-West Highway and Colesville Road; and Cameron Street and Georgia Avenue.

The new schedule for the Silver Spring VanGo Circulator will complement the existing circulator in Bethesda to provide improved transportation options in two of the County’s urban nodes.

“The Silver Spring VanGo Circulator service forms an important part of the urban area’s transportation fabric,” said Councilmember Riemer, who led the fight to secure additional funding for VanGo. “It supports Silver Spring’s growing residential population, efforts to get individuals out of automobiles and the burgeoning night-time economy there.”

Councilmember Riemer said the extended service will help people with different needs and purposes than were served by the previous weekday daytime hours.

“While VanGo’s old schedule helped individuals get to and from the Metro and parking facilities for their morning and evening commutes, it failed to meet the needs of a residential population who wants to use it in the evenings and on the weekends,” he said. “That demand is now met.”

Councilmember Riemer is also working closely with the County’s Department of Transportation, the Silver Spring Urban District and residents to explore rebranding and rerouting the circulator.

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Wayne Avenue and the Purple Line

I recently had the opportunity to sit down with neighborhood activists in the community surrounding Wayne Avenue. We discussed the anticipated construction of the Purple Line route, which, as you know, I strongly support.

As our council has reviewed various parts of the Purple Line route, we have requested changes from MTA and MC DOT. For example, many of us agreed that the plans for Lyttonsville needed to be improved, and we got a great result there.

I am concerned about plans for Wayne Avenue. Particularly, I am concerned that MTA and MC DOT are seeking to overbuild the new Wayne Avenue with more lanes than are necessary. For example, today, there are two lanes inbound to Silver Spring on Wayne Avenue, and they seem sufficient to handle the auto traffic. The new design would widen the existing four-lane road to effectively a six-lane road (by adding turn lanes and an additional transit-only lane) at the Dale Drive Station. The addition of left turn lanes at this intersection would result in negative consequences for pedestrian safety. This intersection is directly adjacent to both a middle school and an elementary school. While the signals would be timed to allow a 3.5-foot-per-second crossing speed for pedestrians only when other traffic along Wayne Avenue is stopped, we should forgo the turn lanes at this intersection in favor of building a pedestrian refuge on the west leg of the intersection, as well as providing for a better operation of the Purple Line.

A similar overbuilding of lanes at the Wayne Avenue/Fenton Street intersection, adjacent to the Silver Spring Library Station, would also have potential negative impacts on existing mature trees along Wayne Avenue.

Residents in the area are hopeful about the possibility of creating a “green street” or “boulevard” on Wayne Avenue. They want to optimally design and rebuild the infrastructure there with the planned Green Trail. This important opportunity to upgrade this street should be considered carefully by the County Council.

Accordingly, I am requesting that the T&E convene a worksession to review plans for the Purple Line alignment from the new Silver Spring Library to the Manchester Road Station. It would be helpful to consider the comments made by MNCPPC in their mandatory review about this segment, and to hear about neighborhood visions as well.