Short-Term Rental (Lodging)

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Current Size: 80%


Grace Period


Submission and Process

Frequently Asked Questions

Contact Information



On March 26, 2019, City Council adopted new Zoning Ordinance regulations associated with short-term transient lodging commonly referred to as “Airbnbs.” These operations, unless previously approved by the City as a bed and breakfast, have been illegal in the City of Harrisonburg. The recently adopted regulations established a new term and definition for "short-term rental" (STR).  

A short-term rental (STR) is defined as “[t]he provision of a dwelling unit, a bedroom or accommodation space within the dwelling unit, or any accessory building that is suitable or intended for transient occupancy for dwelling, sleeping, or lodging purposes and is offered in exchange for a charge for the occupancy.”

Many STR operators use services, including but not limited to Airbnb, VRBO, HomeAway, and FlipKey to advertise their properties. 

Grace Period (Enforcement of the Ordinance will not occur until August 1, 2019)

Beginning August 1, 2019, and continuing thereafter, individuals found illegally operating a STR without proper approvals will receive a violation notice with a $100 penalty for the first offense and a $500 penalty for any subsequent offense.

Individuals wishing to operate a STR on or after August 1, 2019 must apply for and receive approval of a special use permit granted by City Council. From March 27th until July 31st, notices may be sent to property owners who have been identified as operating a STR informing them of the possible penalties they could incur if found operating on or after August 1. The notice will also provide information on how they could acquire the permissions to legally operate the STR.

Individuals interested in legally operating a STR by August 1st must submit their special use permit application to the Department of Planning and Community Development no later than May 3, 2019. To legally operate a STR after this date, special use permit applications are received on a rolling basis for upcoming Planning Commission reviews and subsequent City Council meeting agendas for final determination.



To operate a STR is the City of Harrisonburg, operators must obtain a special use permit, Short-Term Rental Operator Registration, business license, and register for transient occupancy and state sales tax. The STR operator must comply with the full regulations detailed in Article DD. – Short-Term Rentals and other sections of the Zoning Ordinance and the City Tax Code PDF[115KB]. 

See Frequently Asked Questions.


Submission and Process

Before beginning operations, STR operators shall obtain the following: 

1. A special use permit. 

a. This is a one-time application obtained through the Department of Planning and Community Development and requires approval by City Council.

b. Special Use Permit application fees are $425.00 plus $30.00 for each acre of property. Property acreage is rounded up to the nearest whole number. 

c. Applicants may schedule a meeting with city staff before submitting an application to discuss planned STR operations and SUP application process. While this meeting is optional and not required, it is encouraged. Contact Planning staff at the Department of Planning and Community Development at 540-432-7700. 

d. Special use permit application and general procedures. The application should include a letter explaining the proposed use and reasons for seeking a special use permit. Applicants are encouraged to address the following in the letter:

(a) Who is the intended operator of the short-term rental (owner of the property, tenant, employee, or other designated agent).

(b) Whether or not the location of the short-term rental is the primary residence of the operator.

(c) Whether or not the operator will be present during the lodging period.

(d) How many bedrooms or accommodation spaces will be rented for STR. Note: "Accommodation spaces" mean any room offered for sleeping. This would not include living spaces or rooms where guests would not be sleeping. 

(e) Description of where the accommodation spaces are located on the property.

(f) The maximum number lodgers that would be accommodated.

(g) Where lodgers will park their vehicles. 

City staff, Planning Commission, and City Council may use these responses to recommend or establish conditions that limit or expand the allowable STR operation. Applicants are encouraged to review the frequently asked questions section to address any other relevant questions. 

e. Special use permit application deadlines and meeting dates.

2. A Short-Term Rental Operator Registration.

a. Update: As of June 12, 2018, staff and Planning Commission have recommended removal of annual registration requirements. City Council is anticipated to review the proposed ordinance amendments on July 9; if the ordinance amendments are passed, they would become effective July 23, 2019 and no operator registration would be required.  

3. Short-Term Rental (STR) Pre-Operation Form. 

a. Short-Term Rental (STR) Pre-Operation Form PDF[93KB]. This form is required for properties with an approved STR special use permit when City Council has required that prior to operation, the operator shall have guest rooms and accommodation spaces and means of egress comply with the STR Pre-Operation Form. Applicants are encouraged to review this form prior to submitting a STR special use permit application to determine if planned accommodation spaces comply with Pre-Operation Form requirements.

b. The form must be completed by the property owner or STR operator, and summited to the Planning & Zoning Division of the Department of Planning and Community Development (409 South Main Street, 2nd Floor, Harrisonburg, VA 22801) before the STR operation can begin. 

4. A registration for state sales tax through the Virginia Department of Taxation.

5. A business license from the Commissioner of Revenue.

a. A business license for a STR operation cannot be obtained until a STR SUP is approved by City Council.  

b. Business licenses are valid from January 1st through December 31st and must be renewed annually by March 1st. 

c. General information and how to obtain a business license

d. General information on how to register for Transient Occupancy Tax.


Frequently Asked Questions

Where are short-term rentals (STRs) allowed?

With an approved special use permit (SUP), STRs can operate in any dwelling type (single-family detached, duplex, or townhouse, or after physical renovations are completed, in apartments.) STRS are permitted in the following zoning districts:  R-1, R-2, R-3 (multiple), R-3 (medium), R-4, R-5, R-6, R-7, MX-U, B-1, and U-R.

Accessory structures may be used as for STR unless restricted by a condition of the SUP.

Determine the zoning district of your property.

Does the dwelling unit have to be the operator’s primary residence? 

No, unless restricted by a condition of the SUP.

Does the operator have to be present during the lodging period?

No, unless restricted by a condition of the SUP.

How many bedrooms or accommodation spaces can be rented?

There is no limit, unless restricted by a condition of the SUP.

How many guests can rent spaces at a time?

There is no limit, unless restricted by a condition of the SUP.

How many nights per year can spaces be rented?

There is no limit, unless restricted by a condition of the SUP.

How many consecutive nights may guests stay?

Lodging contracts shall be limited to a period of fewer than 30 consecutive nights. 

Are City inspections required?

City inspections of single-family detached, duplex, and townhome dwellings are not required as part of STR SUP requests. However, if during review of STR SUP applications, there are Building Code compliance issues found or discrepancies found between City records and the applicant's description of STR accommodation spaces within dwellings, inspections by the Building Inspections Division may be required. 

Apartment/multi-family units will likely require physical renovations, which will necessitate proper Building and trade permits and associated inspections.

For all types of dwellings, inspections by City Officials as part of investigations of potential violations may occur.

The completion of the STR Pre-Operation Form prior to beginning operations may be required by City Council as a condition of an approved STR SUP. This form is to be completed by the property owner or STR operator.

Are there vehicular parking requirements?

Yes. STRs are to provide and to delineate one off-street vehicle parking space (a parking space to be located on the property) for each bedroom or accommodation space, unless conditioned differently by the SUP. During the SUP process, applicants (operators) may request City Council’s consideration to require fewer parking spaces or to not require delineation. On the other hand, City Council may require more off-street parking spaces than the on space per bedroom or accommodation space minimum.

Is food service allowed?

Yes, limited only to guests. A Virginia Department of Health Lodging Permit may be required to serve STR guests. Food service may be subject to the City's Food and Beverage Tax, please contact the Commissioner of Revenue's Office at 540-432-7795 to inquire. 

Can the operator serve alcohol to guests?

Yes, limited only to guests. A license from the Virginia Alcohol Beverage Control Board is required. Alcohol sales may be subject to the City's Food and Beverage Tax, please contact the Commissioner of Revenue's Office at 540-432-7795 to inquire. 

Can the property be marketed and used for events such as, but not limited to, weddings, and receptions?

If STR operators wish to be able to accommodate such events, such plans must be specified as part of the SUP process and described in the applicant's letter. Accommodating such events would likely require physical renovations or other improvements to the property per the Building Code. Applicants (operators) wishing to market and use the property for events shall include information about planned events with the SUP application. If such events are desired, the applicant is highly encouraged to speak with city staff regarding such plans prior to submitting the application.

Are there other requirements?


Short-term rentals shall have the dates for trash and recycling collection posted prominently.

Operators shall comply with the Virginia Uniform Statewide Building Code and Virginia Statewide Fire Prevention Code. If there are questions about these specific requirements, contact the Building Inspections Division of the Department of Planning & Community Development at 540-432-7700.

 What happens if I operate a STR without obtaining a SUP and/or without registering the use?

Operators of STRs who have not obtained a STR SUP or STR operator registration will receive a notice of violation (a letter) issuing a civil penalty of $100 for the first offense and $500 for each subsequent offense. Each contract for guest lodging created without first registering shall constitute a separate offense. Unless and until an operator pays the penalty and registers their STR, the operator may not continue to offer the property for rental. (Section 10-3-13 of the Zoning Ordinance)

What happens if I received approval of a SUP for a STR and registered the use, but am found in violation of Article DD?

Per Section 10-3-13 of the Zoning Ordinance, operators of STRs found in violation of the Zoning Ordinance shall receive a civil penalty of $100 for a first offense, $200 for a second offense, and $500 of each subsequent offense arising from the same set of operative facts. If civil penalties total $5,000, the violation may be prosecuted as a criminal misdemeanor. (Section 10-3-13 of the Zoning Ordinance)


Contact Information

For zoning and special use permit questions, contact the Planning & Zoning Division of the Department of Planning & Community Development at 540-432-7700.

For building code questions, contact the Building Inspections Division of the Department of Planning and Community Development at 540-432-7700. 

For business license and transient occupancy tax questions, contact the Commissioner of Revenue’s Office at 540-432-7704.


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