In response to a request for comment, the D.C. government said Thursday that it would adopt an initial implementation measure “in the coming days,” and then grant a 90-day grace period before enforcing the law. But it did not say when property owners could begin seeking licenses and did not provide other details.
“It’s been a lot of confusion,” said Synta Keeling, who rents out two bedrooms in her Ward 7 townhouse and helps manage two Facebook groups for Airbnb hosts. “We don’t know when it is going to roll out or how they’re going to handle it.”
It’s also been a long wait. The D.C. Council unanimously approved the law nearly a year ago, but the legislation couldn’t take effect until a budget issue was resolved and the D.C. Zoning Commission legalized short-term rentals in residential neighborhoods.
The budget matter was fixed at the start of the month, and the zoning panel acted Oct. 24. But the Department of Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (DCRA), which has jurisdiction over the rentals, still must adopt a rulemaking procedure and hire staffers to implement the law.
Airbnb says it could then need three to six months to update its software so that hosts’ licenses are displayed on the Airbnb website as the new law requires.
“I feel like DCRA has yet to get the process together,” said Liz Furgurson, who rents out a basement bedroom in her Ward 1 townhouse and co-manages one of the Facebook groups for D.C. hosts. “It seems like they’ve known for a while that this was going to come into play. As far as I can tell, there’s been limited action and definitely limited information-sharing.”
The new law is designed to impose some of the tightest limits in the nation on short-term rentals. It prevents D.C. property owners from renting out second homes on a short-term basis, and it bars the renting out of spare rooms or the basement in a host’s primary residence for more than 90 days per year when the host is away.
The law was passed after extensive debate in which both sides took the rare step of paying for broadcast advertisements to make their case.
The hotel industry and its labor unions pushed the law to reduce competition from short-term rentals. They drew support from activists who claimed that conversion of apartments to short-term rentals was aggravating the city’s housing shortage.
Airbnb and similar companies said the law would cost property owners tens of millions of dollars and burden less-affluent residents who rely on rental income. They pointed to a study by the Coalition for Nonprofit Housing and Economic Development that said the impact of short-term rentals on the overall housing market was minimal.
Airbnb said it has had friendly, “high-level conversations” with DCRA officials since last summer about implementing the law but has received no detailed information.
“Right now, we’re sort of shadowboxing,” said Kelley Gossett, the head of policy for Airbnb Mid-Atlantic. “It’s hard to tell what time frame or time horizon is appropriate. . . . We don’t have additional insights yet. Until we do, we can’t really guide our hosts in terms of getting that license.”
DCRA Director Ernest Chrappah said the agency “is now moving forward with a rulemaking” to implement the law, which he expects “to be published in the coming days.”
“Once in effect, DCRA will provide a 90-day enforcement grace period to allow people enough time to familiarize themselves with the new regulations and come into compliance,” Chrappah said. “Our goal is to make the transition as smooth as possible for everyone.”
The law says that a host must have “a valid basic business license with a ‘Short-Term Rental’ endorsement, in addition to any other license required by law.” Hosts who wish to rent while they are away from their residences must have a “Vacation Rental” endorsement.
The law allows the city to set fees for licenses, which are valid for two years. It sets other requirements, such as that hosts or their representatives must always be reachable by telephone in case of emergencies.
Fines are $500 for a first violation, $2,000 for a second and $6,000 for a third.
One of the most difficult provisions to enforce may be that limiting rentals to a maximum of 90 days in a calendar year when the host is away. It’s unclear how the DCRA will keep track of how many days hosts rent out rooms when they are not present.
“Are you going to rely on people tattling on their neighbors?” Keeling said. She said she was “worried about the capacity of DCRA to take this on.”
Anneliese Bruner, who rents out space on the first floor of her Victorian house in Ward 4, said hosts might dodge the law, if it’s too complicated or strict, by finding ways to advertise short-term rentals without using established booking services.
The city should “make sure that there is some leeway, some wiggle room, because if they don’t . . . it may go back to a situation where it’s even less regulated, kind of like a gray-market situation,” Bruner said. “People will comply to a degree. They will do their best. But if they really need this money, they may be driven off the [existing] platform.”
This story has been updated.