As county supervisors work their way toward a requirement that the owners of short term residential rentals—such as those listed on Airbnb or VRBO—register with the county, Supervisor Ron A. Meyer Jr. (R-Broad Run) is repeating his allegations of conflict of interest by Visit Loudoun.
Supervisors are writing an ordinance that will require short-term residential rental owners to register with the local government annually. Currently, operators of short-term residential rentals are beholden to the same taxes and laws as other hospitality businesses, but the lack of oversight has concerned county officials that those rentals may not be meeting their tax or public safety obligations.
Visit Loudoun, a nonprofit that serves as the county’s tourism arm, has advocated the registry. Meyer called that “absolutely inappropriate” and a conflict of interest, because Visit Loudoun draws a membership fee from hotels and has representatives of the hotel and bed-and-breakfast industries on its Board of Directors.
Visit Loudoun receives the majority of its funding from a portion of the county’s transient occupancy tax, a portion which state law requires the county use for promoting tourism and travel. In exchange, the nonprofit acts as the county’s tourism arm, developing its strategic business plan as a destination, promoting it as a location domestically and abroad, and helping attract and facilitate business deals for Loudoun.
Meyer argued that means it should not advise on the proposed registry, and said that Visit Loudoun CEO Beth Erickson’s involvement was unethical.”
“This has not been an appropriate or ethical process,” Meyer said. “…As a board we cannot allow that type of activity to happen.”
Meyer’s attacks on Visit Loudoun and Erickson drew rebukes from other supervisors.
“They are a county-funded stakeholder acting as an agent of the Board of Supervisors to participate in this process, so it is not the same thing,” said Supervisor Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles), pointing to Visit Loudoun’s memorandum of understanding with the county.
On June 23, 2016, the Board of Supervisors unanimously renewed its agreement with Visit Loudoun. That contract provides that Visit Loudoun will “represent the tourism industry to policy makers and provide tourism perspective and recommendations regarding land use and zoning, funding opportunities, and other legislative issues that directly impact the tourism industry.” It also holds that the nonprofit will function as a referral agency on tourism issues.
Board Vice Chairman Ralph M. Buona (R-Ashburn) said Meyer was “out of line.”
“You should not make accusations and throw those words out just to try to grandstand,” Buona said. “Visit Loudoun has done a fantastic job. Ms. Erickson leads the organization admirably. She has brought in a tremendous amount of tourism in the county, based upon our agreement with them, and it’s unfair to make those kinds of accusations.” Supervisor Geary M. Higgins (R-Catoctin) similarly called Meyer’s accusations “ridiculous.”
Asked for his opinion by Supervisor Tony R. Buffington (R-Blue Ridge), County Attorney Leo Rogers advised that Visit Loudoun’s involvement is not unlawful.
“There is certainly not an issue under the Conflict of Interests Act, in that Visit Loudoun is not the decision maker, so some of the same standards would not apply,” Rogers said.
The proposed ordinance would require a free annual registration, with a penalty of $500 for renting out a property without registering, up to $5,000 total. Violating the registration requirement would also prohibit registration for one or two years, and violating more than three state or local laws and regulation would prohibit registration for one year. It would go into effect July 1.
Businesses renting rooms to fewer than four people at a time are exempt from the transient occupancy tax. Above that, the tax is 7 percent.
Those renting out fewer than seven bedrooms and showing less than $4,000 gross receipts are exempt from the business, professional, and occupational license tax. With seven or more bedrooms and up to $200,000 gross receipts, businesses pay a $30 license fee, and above that, 23 cents per $100 of gross receipts.
Supervisors are expected to vote on the new regulation at their May 1 meeting.
This article was updated to correct inaccuracies regarding Sup. Meyer’s statements regarding Visit Loudoun’s involvement.