Starting this week, short-term rental homeowners in Franklin County will be required to register their home to meet new requirements put in place earlier this year. The county unveiled a new website to answer questions about the rules and to make it easy for property owners to sign up online.
The Franklin County Board of Supervisors approved several new rules for short-term rentals in the county this summer. Many of the changes were due to the growing number of short-term rentals in the county in recent months.
“People seem to be looking at property for that purpose,” said Steve Sandy, Franklin County director of planning and community development. He attributed some of the increase to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the increase in people looking to get away from the bigger cities.
Due to the growing number of short-term rentals, Franklin County hired Host Compliance as a third party consultant to assist in overseeing rental homes in the county. The company oversees short-term rentals for localities across the country, including nearby in Lynchburg.
Along with registering with the county, short-term rental owners will also be required to pay an annual $200 fee and agree to an annual inspection from the fire marshal. Sandy said the fee will go toward the cost of the inspection and the costs from Host Compliance.
The inspection will assure that short-term rental homes have the proper number of fire extinguishers, working smoke detectors, an evacuation plan and even an inspection of docks for lake homes to check for high levels of electricity in the water.
“It is just a basic safety inspection,” Sandy said.
Homes are also required to post the number of occupants allowed to stay in the home. Franklin County code allows only two occupants per bedroom with occupant defined as anyone over age 3.
Sandy said one of the reasons a limit to the number of occupants is enforced is to not put a strain on the home’s septic system due to overuse. The number of bedrooms in a home determines the size of a septic system and how many people it was designed for.
Any short-term rental that does not register with the county and does not have a safety inspection could potentially be charged a $500 fine. Sandy said Host Compliance will assist in finding short-term rentals listed on websites like AirBnB that have not registered with the county.
When an unregistered home is found, the county will send a letter to the owners telling them they must register. In some cases the owners may owe transient occupancy tax for past renters. In other cases, Sandy said, homeowners may be told that they are operating in a part of the county that does not allow short-term rentals.
Short-term rentals are allowed in the southern half of Franklin County that has no zoning. In zoned areas such as around Smith Mountain Lake, short-term rentals are allowed by right in portions zoned RPD and PCD. In areas zoned A1, short-term rentals may be permitted by obtaining a special-use permit.
If owners have been using a home as a short-term rental in an area where it is not allowed, Sandy said they are still required to pay back taxes. “Even homes that rented illegally are not exempt,” he said.
The new website will provide information for anyone who is a short-term rental owner or is considering it. The website will provide all current rules and regulations that must be followed. It will also provide a link to Host Compliance where people can make complaints.
Sandy said Host Compliance will be able to provide information to the county immediately concerning any complaints due to noise, parking issues or violations of occupancy limits. Any immediate safety concerns will be forwarded to the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office, he said.
For short-term renters who continue to break the rules, Sandy said Host Compliance would be able to keep a detailed record of complaints that can be used if the county takes property owners to court. If a short-term rental home is in an A1 zoning district and a special-use permit is required, the issue could go to the Franklin County Board of Supervisors, and they could vote to deny the permit.
Information provided by Host Compliance could also be used to create new short-term rental rules in the future.
The Franklin County Planning Commission decided to postpone considering minimum lot size and setback rules for short-term rentals earlier this year. They decided to wait until Host Compliance was operating for a year to see if any potential complaints could be improved with new regulations.
Registration for short-term rentals will cover a home annually from July 1 to June 30. Due to this first year being a partial year that starts Oct. 1, the registration fee will be $150.
Property owners can register a property at secure.hostcompliance.com/franklin-county-va/permit-registration.
Sandy said operators of short-term rentals also must register separately with the Franklin County Commissioner of the Revenue for transient occupancy tax collection and any other taxes that may be due on the property. Owners can contact the commissioner’s office at 483-3083 for more information.
Complaints about a short-term rental in the county can be made by calling 269-4423 or visiting safe.hostcompliance.com/franklin-county-va/tips.
More information is available at www.franklincountyva.gov/729/Short-Term-Rentals.
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