May 18, 2024

Home Inspection

Home Inspection, Primary Monitoring for Your Home

Inspection backlog in Sandbridge holds up short-term rental permits

5 min read

VIRGINIA BEACH — In a few months, throngs of vacationers will descend on the secluded seaside community of Sandbridge, about 15 miles south of the Virginia Beach resort area.

Large vacation homes dominate the 5-mile strip of land nestled between the Atlantic Ocean and the upper portion of Back Bay. These days, Sandbridge is relatively quiet except for the sound of hammers hitting nails. Property owners take advantage of the slow winter months to build and renovate rental properties before the busy season.

At lunchtime, contractors’ trucks line up in the parking lot of the Sandbridge Seaside Market. Server Kaitlyn Sloan said she’s been boxing up hot lunches for more than 60 construction workers each day.

But missing from the landscape are enough licensed architects and engineers to perform structural safety inspections — necessary to obtain a short-term rental permit from the city.

Around 350 Sandbridge homeowners have permits with another 350 in limbo, waiting for their decks to pass muster. They want the city to adjust the requirements, according to the Sandbridge Beach Business Association.

The group is comprised of companies that support Sandbridge’s short-term rental industry, including real estate firms, restaurants, pool cleaners and landscapers. They worry homeowners will have to forgo the upcoming season and face fines if they haven’t completed their permit applications. They recently sent a letter outlining concerns and possible solutions to city Zoning Administrator Kevin Kemp.

“There are a number of properties sitting in that pending stage where they have submitted application for permits but haven’t been able to fulfill the structural requirements,” Kemp said. “That’s a big issue we’re hearing.”

At the root of the problem, said Kemp, is that engineers are being asked to certify work done years ago they didn’t design.

A structural safety inspection report, valid for three years, is required to obtain a short-term rental permit in Virginia Beach. A state licensed architect or engineer must inspect the decks, balconies, exterior stairways and porches. The permit is required every three years to stay in business, and many of them are due for a renewal soon.

David Whitley, president of RBC Homes, explains the complicated process of deck inspections for rental properties in Sandbridge on Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024. (Stephen M. Katz/The Virginian-Pilot)
David Whitley, president of RBC Homes, explains the complicated process of deck inspections for rental properties in Sandbridge on Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024. (Stephen M. Katz/The Virginian-Pilot)

David Whitley, a Sandbridge homebuilder and president of the business association, said only a handful of engineering firms are willing to provide the inspections. Most decks fail initially, and the homeowner has to hire a contractor to shore them up and then schedule a reinspection, which is taking 6-8 weeks.

Also, contractors aren’t interested in doing the deck repairs because homeowners are holding back payment until the engineer certifies their work, Whitley said.

He owns RBC Homes and spent $350,000 last to certify the decks of 40 houses his company maintains.

“We realize that this is something that we need to stay on top of, but there’s got to be a way we can make it more user-friendly,” said Whitley, also the chair of the city’s Board of Zoning Appeals.

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A vacation haven

Sandbridge comprises the largest of Virginia Beach’s short-term rental inventory. It’s the only part of the city where all properties can be used as a short-term rental, but homeowners are required to obtain a zoning permit and register with the Commissioner of the Revenue Phil Kellam.

Last year, short-term rentals in Sandbridge generated roughly $8.5 million in transient lodging taxes and an additional $210,000 in a nightly tax used for advertising. Those amounts include lodging tax revenue from a campground, Kellam said.

The deck inspection issue has affected short-term rental permitting in other parts of the city, but is most prevalent in Sandbridge.

“The volume of homes is why Sandbridge is the loudest voice on this,” Kemp said.

The community is made up of multi-story houses with extensive, wraparound decks.

Oceanfront rental properties in Sandbridge boast decks upon decks from which to enjoy the beautiful views. As seen Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024. (Stephen M. Katz/The Virginian-Pilot)
Oceanfront rental properties in Sandbridge boast decks upon decks from which to enjoy the beautiful views. As seen Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024. (Stephen M. Katz/The Virginian-Pilot)

Not all are short-term rentals. Year-round residents also live there and have been vocal through the years about noise, trash and parking issues stemming from weekly rentals. In 2016, Sandbridge residents became concerned about the growing number of “party houses” hosting weddings and special events. And in 2020, after a deck collapsed on Sandfiddler Road, injuring five people, the city began to take a closer look at regulating rentals in Sandbridge and across the city.

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Possible solutions

In 2021, Virginia Beach began requiring zoning permits for short-term rentals, which cost $200 and must include a parking plan, proof of insurance and the completion of two safety reports.

A city zoning inspector can conduct the required “life safety inspection,” which entails testing smoke alarms and confirming certain signs are posted. Real estate companies are the most concerned about the structural safety report.

A third of real estate company Sandbridge Blue’s clients — 44 of 107 — haven’t been able to obtain short-term rental permits because of the deck inspection requirement, according to Kathy Davis, general manager.

To help ease the backlog, Sandbridge Beach Business Association wants the city to allow certified deck inspectors to complete the report in lieu of licensed engineers. They also want the zoning office to provide “provisional” permits pending the report so that the houses can be rented this season.

To take advantage of the views, rental properties in Sandbridge are flush with decks. As seen Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024. (Stephen M. Katz/The Virginian-Pilot)
To take advantage of the views, rental properties in Sandbridge are flush with decks. As seen Thursday, Feb. 22, 2024. (Stephen M. Katz/The Virginian-Pilot)

Kemp is considering the options.

“The more preferred way is to look at who else can perform these inspections,” he said. “Is there some kind of training or certification that a Class A contractor can get?”

Kemp plans to look into other ways “that we can achieve that assurance of safety,” he said, adding that the city is in the process of standing up a short-term rental taskforce.

As for what will happen to rentals that haven’t obtained proper certification by summer, Kemp said his department is trying to work with owners.

“If they’re working through the process of getting the permit, we’re not going to shut them down,” he said.

Stacy Parker, 757-222-5125, [email protected]

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