Garmon party house

The party house at 4499 Garmon Road in Buckhead was served with a stop-work order for operating an illegal commercial party. It’s one of several short-term rental homes that have served as party houses in metro Atlanta.

After months of discussion regarding the topic of short-term rentals, Atlanta City Council members recently acted by introducing two separate proposed ordinances designed to regulate and tax them.

But as the debate over how lenient or how strict the city should be when it comes to controlling short-term rentals continues, council members and other Atlanta officials could tweak the two pieces of legislation to strike the right balance in terms of fairness.

At the council’s Oct. 19 meeting, Posts 1 and 2 at-large Councilmen Andre Dickens Matt Westmoreland were the lead co-sponsors on Ordinance No. 20-O-1656 (10) (the Neighbor is calling it Ordinance 1), which would regulate and tax short-term rentals based on a permit/certificate application process that would allow rentals for up to 30 days.

“We have seen over the last few years a considerable increase in the number of short-term rental units in the city,” Westmoreland said. “This piece of legislation seeks to regulate, tax and limit the number of short-term rental units in the city. It’s a continuation of a conversation that’s been happening over the last several weeks here at the city. I’ve already received a considerable amount of helpful feedback from residents.

“Some of them are renting out some or all of their primary residence to help pay the mortgage and property taxes. Some have reached out to say they support a total ban. Most are in the middle of that spectrum. I think it’s important that much like other major cities around the country and other cities in Georgia, Atlanta needs to have a framework in place that sets up the regulation, taxation and limitation of short-term rentals.”

Earlier in October, Districts 7 and 8 Councilmen Howard Shook and J.P. Matzigkeit were the lead co-sponsors on another, more strict proposed legislation (Ordinance 2) that would ban all short-term rentals in residentially-zoned areas but allow them in commercial districts, such as condos along Peachtree Road in Buckhead.

It has not been introduced at a council meeting yet and must go through the city’s legislative process, including Neighborhood Planning Unit board meetings and other committees before being approved by the full council.

Ordinance 2 is separate from No. 19-O-1393, which Matzigkeit and District 9 Councilman Dustin Hillis were the lead sponsors on and amends the city zoning code by defining what a party house, or home rented out for large, illegal parties, and outlaws all of them in residential districts. That legislation was approved by the council Oct. 19, and Westmoreland said Ordinance 1 would not impact it in any way.

Matzigkeit said Ordinance 2 would put an end to the horror stories of individuals or groups, such as families, renting homes in the short term and then trashing them. He added banning all short-term rentals in residential areas may be necessary, at least at first.

“It’s very difficult to selectively enforce the bad actors and identify who’s a bad actor,” Matzigkeit said. “The legislation Howard and I put out there essentially is a starting place to outlaw all short-term rentals so that’s where we could begin the conversation.”

A third proposed ordinance that would regulate short-term rentals was introduced by Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’ administration through Time Keane, commissioner of the Atlanta Department of City Planning, about a year ago, but it was held up in a council committee, Shook said.

“The Draconian one is the one the administration introduced,” he said. “It’s far more restrictive than mine. Why is mine so restrictive? Because I got sick and tired for this situation to happen. It’s been coming for years, and I wanted to get everyone’s attention.”

Because it calls for the creation of a short-term rental fee, Ordinance 1 was referred to the council’s community development/human services committee, where it will stay while the city’s planning department conducts a fee study to decide the costs to apply for a short-term rental certificate.

“Then we have to determine how we collect and remit taxes,” Westmoreland said. “Finally, what limitations are going to exist? There’s some folks who believe there should be no short-term rentals at all. Some think you should be able to rent out your primary residence plus one or more other homes. Another key pillar of this conversation is settling on what’s the right path forward.”

He said it could take several weeks before the legislation goes before the full council for a vote. The proposed ordinance by Shook and Matzigkeit is expected to take longer since it still has to go through the city’s legislative process.

In an Oct. 28 virtual press briefing, when asked about the two most recent proposed short-term rental ordinances, Bottoms said she’s not favoring one over the other.

“Our position is I want to see what city council puts forth and allow city council to go through their deliberations,” she said. “We will evaluate what city council puts forth. So, until I have something before me, the administration is not taking a firm position.”

Midtown resident Kathie McClure said she and her husband Jay own a duplex near their home that they rent out through Airbnb.com. She said they set strict ground rules and have never had problems with renters since they started renting it out four years ago. In a letter to the editor, McClure objected to the more sweeping proposed legislation since it would ban all short-term rentals in the city’s residential areas.

“A ban on all short-term rentals is unnecessary overkill that will do great harm to the majority of the Atlanta short-term rental community, who work to ensure that guests respect their neighbors and who depend upon their hosting income to make ends meet,” she wrote. “The ban will also deprive the city and the state of tax revenues and local businesses of an infusion of spending from guests staying nearby.

“Visitors would also be denied the opportunity to experience our city from the safety and comfort of a home in one of Atlanta’s loveliest neighborhoods.”

In a follow-up interview, when asked about Ordinance 1, McClure said, “The proposed ordinance is a reasonable regulatory framework affording the city the power to punish the small number of short-term rental owners who do not effectively curb their guests’ disruptive behavior.

“I caution the city council not to expand the ordinance in ways that would impose caps or other restrictions on the numbers of short-term rentals given that there is no credible evidence establishing that these rentals have any meaningful adverse effect on the availability of affordable housing.”

Shook said ordinance 1 would need to include protections to ensure rental home owners couldn’t use a friend or relative or themselves, using a different name, illegally reapplying for a permit if theirs was denied because of past problems.

“What prevents your uncle or someone else under another name reapplying tomorrow, as we see with bars’ (liquor licenses) all the time?” he said. “That needs to be discussed.”

Shook added he’s “very optimistic we’ll find an outcome that will produce my main desire, which is the city having an enforcement mechanism that is efficient and fair and protective of neighbors who are made to live next to bad operators, and we start recovering (tax) revenue.”

“Some, including me, are concerned about a creeping commercialization of our neighborhoods,” he said. “… Here’s what I tell the short-term rental platforms and their association collectively and individual clients: what you may not know, and what I hear about increasingly, is even if you live next to (a short-term rental home) that’s never prompted you to pick up the phone and call 911, you’re probably getting increasingly getting anxious about who is supposed to be there and how isn’t. And should I worry, or shouldn’t I worry about who’s coming (in or out of that house) at 2 in the morning?”

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