Airbnb home

Photo via Airbnb

Montgomery County could amend its zoning code to make Airbnb legal.

Under the current code, which passed last year and went into effect in late October 2014, tenancy of less than a month is forbidden in all residential zones. This effectively bans the short-term rentals facilitated by San Francisco-based Airbnb.

County Councilmember Hans Riemer recently introduced a zoning text amendment that would allow “all forms of short-term rental and residential use,” Bethesda Now reported. Homeowners or tenants renting out space to Airbnb users would still need to get a county license approving “transient visitors.”

“People in the county are absolutely going to have strong usage of Airbnb. That’s not surprising considering how this region is such a huge tourist destination,” Riemer told Bethesda Now. “We’re not going to run around and try to shut down all Airbnb rentals in Montgomery County… So I said, ‘Why don’t we just go ahead and fix that part of the zoning code.’”

Ironically, the old county zoning code, established in 1977, had a provision for boarding house use, which authorized renting out rooms for any given period of time.

Airbnb is undoubtedly a Silicon Valley success — the startup is set to be valued at $13 billion, up from $10 billion in April 2014. The legality of the platform has been a hot-button issue in other cities, particularly New York. In October 2014, the New York attorney general issued a report claiming that nearly three-quarters of all Airbnb rentals in the city are illegal. More than a third of the units in New York City are being supplied by commercial operators who generate more than a third of the revenue, according to the report.

In contrast, that same month, San Francisco’s board of supervisors voted to legalize and regulate Airbnb. The new legislation caps non-hosted rentals at 90 days per year and creates a public registry, where hosts must pay a $50 fee, register with the city Planning Department and promise to stick to the 90-day maximum.

Montgomery County is also considering altering its taxi laws to allow for Uber and other private ride services, the Washington Post reported.

“When we started the zoning code rewrite seven years ago, there wasn’t such a thing as a sharing economy,” Riemer told Bethesda Now. “I don’t think it was on anybody’s mind when we voted on it. The same thing happened with [app-based car service] Uber. You don’t even know there’s an issue and then it turns out everyone is already using the service.”

A public hearing is set for February 24th.

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