Lawmaker rethinks bill to prevent local short-term rental restrictions

The owner of Lucky Savannah Vacation Rentals welcomed the river city’s first regulations on short-term rentals when local officials adopted them in 2015.

But Corey Jones said Savannah officials revisited the issue two years later and limited the number of Airbnb-type rentals in some neighborhoods. Lucky Savannah manages about 250 rentals, and Jones was not fond of the new cap. Now he is backing state legislation that could reduce local government’s ability to regulate short term rentals, typically booked online through sites like Lucky Savannah, Airbnb and Vrob.

House Bill 523 aims to make local governments treat housing rented out for 30 days or fewer the same as any other house whether rented or owner-occupied. The legislation comes as more local governments from the mountains to the coast require short-term rental hosts to jump through more hoops, including licensing, taxes and geographic restrictions that effectively ban them in some communities.

Jones said some regulations are OK, but Savannah’s cap on the percentage of short-term rentals in downtown neighborhoods is too strict.

“There’s a tipping point of reasonable regulations that are well-informed and fact based and the kind of unreasonable regulations that aren’t supported for the most part and have some profound unintended consequences,” Jones said.

The lobbying arms of Georgia’s association of cities and counties argue against the state taking away local oversight of short-term rentals. 

Savannah’s ordinance balances the rights of owners who want to make a home in the city versus owners who treat their house like a business, Georgia Municipal Association spokeswoman Kelli Bennett said.

The central question is whether short-term rental units should be treated any differently than other residences, said Todd Edwards, deputy legislative director for the Association of County Commissioners Georgia.

“Our members believe that counties should maintain the ability to enact sensible rules in this area, based on the input they receive from their community,” he said. “Local governments must balance the rights of (short-term rentals) owners with the rights of other property owners who are impacted by (short-term rentals).”

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Kasey Carpenter, said he wants to reach a compromise that doesn’t take away all local oversight. He’s making revisions to make his proposal less restrictive, he said.  

The goal is to eliminate some of the onerous regulations that in some instances essentially ban short-term rentals, he said.

“We are working on some balance that would allow local governments to regulate within reason without banning or zoning out (short-term rentals) or taking away private property rights,” said Carpenter, a Dalton Republican. 

One of the bonuses of regulating short-term rentals is the ability to tax them. However, some local governments claim the rental firms are not paying their proper due taxes.

Rome, Cartersville, Tybee Island and Hart County recently filed a $5 million lawsuit against Airbnb over allegations that the company owes unpaid local taxes, according to the Jan. 31 lawsuit.

Some local regulations in Georgia are spurred by what goes on inside the house. Sandy Springs’ regulations followed noise complaints. And a group of Atlanta residents are clamoring for regulations after an infamous party mansion Atlanta’s Buckhead neighborhood drew the ire of neighbors.

“I think that the real issue lies within each community and not necessarily with the state,” said Sally Riker, president of the Mt. Paran-Northside Citizens Association in north Atlanta.  “Each community is so unique, and each neighborhood can be as well.”

Others like Steve Guello, president of the North Georgia Boating Club, said some of the uproar that sparked regulations in places like Forsyth County stem from some local homeowners objecting to renters coming from places like Atlanta to stay in their high-end neighborhoods. 

Forsyth County is in the midst of a federal lawsuit filed by the Short Term Rental Owners Association of Georgia after the county barred short-term rentals from residential neighborhoods.

Stanley Dunlap
Stanley Dunlap has covered government and politics for news outlets in Georgia and Tennessee for the past decade. At The (Macon) Telegraph he told readers about Macon-Bibb County’s challenges implementing its recent consolidation, with a focus on ways the state Legislature determines the fate of local communities. He used open records requests to break a story of a $400 million pension sweetheart deal a county manager steered to a friendly consultant. The Georgia Associated Press Managing Editors named Stanley a finalist for best deadline reporting for his story on the death of Gregg Allman and best beat reporting for explanatory articles on the 2018 Macon-Bibb County budget deliberations. The Tennessee Press Association honored him for his reporting on the disappearance of Holly Bobo, which became a sensational murder case that generated national headlines.