Short-term rentals are now legal in Newport News, but regulations have some property owners outraged

For years, it’s been illegal to operate short-term rentals in the city.

That changed Tuesday night at the City Council meeting. However, though the council made the rentals legal, a throng of people who have been operating them in the city are unhappy with the new rules.

The City Council heard from more than 30 speakers — many already operating Airbnbs in the city — who opposed one of the three short-term rental ordinances that provided a series of regulations for property owners.

While several speakers wanted a way to operate legally, they took issue with some of the regulations, including one that would require the rental space to be part of the property owner’s primary residence, which means they must live there at least 185 days a year.

The regulations also stipulate that the renter has to stay within the main residence and cannot be housed in a detached building on the property. The ordinance also limits the number of overnight guests to six — no matter how large the residence is — and limits the number of people allowed in a bedroom to two.

Jay Pruden says he’s owned rental properties in Newport News for more than 30 years. In 2020, he decided to try short-term rentals in a room above his detached garage.

Since joining Airbnb, Pruden said he’s rented out the room about for about 220 days each year and made about $11,000 a year. He says he’s never had a complaint from customers or neighbors and maintains a 4.95 rating out of a possible 5.

“When I look at this ordinance, I’m basically out of business,” Pruden said. “I can’t believe it’s your intent to eliminate the service I’m providing for Newport News.”

In a last-ditch effort, Greg Garrett, founder of Garrett Realty Partners, pleaded with the council to compromise on the regulations the short-term rental operators objected to the most — the residency requirement and the limit on guests — but the City Council narrowly voted to move forward with all of the regulations as written.

Three council members — Marcellus Harris, David Jenkins and Tina Vick — voted against the third short-term rental ordinance that contained those regulations.

City Attorney Collins Owens said if the council did not pass the ordinances regulating short-term rentals, it would be hard to go back later and make changes. Anyone who applied to legally operate a short-term rental after Tuesday night’s meeting would be grandfathered in and would not need to follow any new regulations, he said.

Owens, Mayor McKinley Price and City Manager Cindy Rohlf repeatedly stressed to the council that the regulations could be changed at a later date.

“This is a first step to allow some [Airbnbs] as lawful in the city of Newport News where we don’t have any right now,” Owens said.

The ordinance requires short-term rental owners to have a business license before operating. Under state law, the fee for a first-time violation is $5,000. The fee for any subsequent violations is $10,000.

Property owners who do not comply with the city’s regulations will not be eligible to receive a certificate of zoning compliance for two years, which means they will not be able to legally operate a short-term rental.

Rohlf said staff has “no intention” of prosecuting those who are operating illegally right now unless someone files a complaint.

“We are not going to actively go out and enforce this,” Rohlf said. “We’re going to continue our current method of operation for the time being.”

Jessica Nolte, 757-912-1675,