Short Term Rentals

What is a Short-Term rental?

A short-term rental of private residential property is typically less than 30 days and includes nightly and weekly rentals. Rentals are often advertised on hosting websites such as Airbnb, VRBO, etc.  Short-term rentals do not include the rental of a home to an individual or family living together to establish a place of residence. The James City County Zoning Ordinance defines family as:

  1. An individual;
  2. Two or more persons related by blood, marriage, adoption or guardianship;
  3. A number of persons, not exceeding three, living and cooking together as a single housekeeping unit though not related by blood, marriage, adoption or guardianship; or
  4. Not, more than two unrelated persons living and cooking together along with two or more persons related by blood, marriage, adoption or guardianship, as a single housekeeping unit.

The owner’s vision for the property will determine if the short-term rental is classified as a Tourist Home or Rental of Rooms.

Tourist Home versus Rental of Rooms

A Tourist Home is defined as “a dwelling where lodging or lodging and meals are provided for compensation for up to five rooms which are open to transients” (JCC Zoning Ordinance). A tourist home allows for the rental of an entire dwelling to transients. 

Rental of rooms is not specifically defined in the Zoning Ordinance but has typically applied to situations where a homeowner rents a specific number of rooms (usually to a maximum of three) on a short-term basis. Unlike tourist homes, with a “rental of rooms” use, the property owner must live in the house.

Opening a Short-Term Rental in James City County

The option to operate a short-term rental in James City County depends on a few different elements including whether or not the use is permitted or requires a Special Use Permit (SUP) based on the County Zoning Ordinance. If it does require an SUP, Staff’s recommendation will come from guidance in the County’s current Comprehensive Plan. The legislative application will first go to the Planning Commission for their review and recommendation and the final decision is made by the Board of Supervisors.  Please note that all short-term rentals must obtain a business license and file monthly State Sales taxes and County Lodges taxes. 

County Ordinance

A property’s zoning will determine if the use is permitted, not permitted or if an SUP is required. The zoning of a property can be found on Property Information and the chart below can be consulted to determine whether or not a short-term rental is permitted.

Zoning District Rental of Rooms Tourist Home
Economic Opportunity (EO) Permitted Permitted
General Agriculture (A-1) SUP SUP
General Business (B-1) Not Permitted Permitted
Industrial, (M-1, M-2) Not Permitted Not Permitted
Limited Business (LB) Not Permitted Permitted
Mixed Use (MU) Permitted
Rental of more than three rooms
 in a single-family dwelling unit - SUP
Planned Unit Development (PUD) Not Permitted Not Permitted
Public Lands (PL) Not Permitted Not Permitted
Research & Technology District (RT) Not Permitted Not Permitted
Limited Residential (R-1) SUP Not Permitted
General Residential (R-2) SUP SUP
Residential Redevelopment 
District (R-3)
Rental of one room - Permitted
Rental of two or three rooms - SUP
Residential Planned Community (R-4) Permitted Permitted
Multifamily Residential 
District (R-5)
Rental of one room - Permitted
Rental of two or three rooms - SUP
Low-Density Residential District (R-6) SUP Not Permitted
Rural Residential (R-8) SUP SUP

Any dwelling or place used for a short-term rental must receive an updated Certificate of Occupancy from Building Safety and Permits.  

Business License and Taxes

Any person or entity operating a short-term rental must obtain a business license prior to operating. Please contact the Commissioner of the Revenue’s office to apply for a business license. All short-term rentals are subject to monthly State Sales Taxes and monthly James City County Lodging Taxes.  Additional information regarding some of the applicable taxes may be found on the Virginia Department of Taxation website.  

Comprehensive Plan

New guidance has been provided in the updated 2045 Comprehensive Plan for short-term rentals in the County.  

The Comprehensive Plan recommends short-term rentals meet the following development standards:

  • Be located on lands designated Rural Lands, Neighborhood Commercial, Community Commercial, Mixed Use or Economic Opportunity;
  • Be located on the edge or corner of an existing platted subdivision, rather than internal to it;
  • Be located on a major road; and
  • Be operated in a manner such that the property owner will continue to live and reside on the property during the rental.

Please consult the Future Land Use Map to compare the land designation of the parcel for the first standard listed above.

Staff is unable to recommend approval for Special Use Permit applications that do not meet all four of the standards listed above.


Plans and permits can be applied for on JCC PermitLink after registering for an account. Staff recommends applying for a Conceptual Plan before any legislative application such as a SUP and is happy to answer any questions.

Please contact the Planning department at 757-253-6685 or via email with any questions or for assistance navigating PermitLink.