Sandy Springs will require short-term rental properties listed on such services as Airbnb to be registered and licensed with the city starting May 1 – if a state law doesn’t preempt the new regulation system.

The regulations approved by the City Council Feb. 20 are intended to make sure that short-term rental spaces meet city code standards and that their operators pay the required hotel/motel taxes. The system will include a business license fee to be determined. If approved, the short-term rental operator would receive a one-year permit.

Owners of short-term rentals will be required to provide detailed records of rental activity to the city and give emergency contact information to everyone living within 500 feet. Registration and compliance will be contracted to a company called Host Compliance at a cost previously estimated by city officials at $21,000 a year.

The wild card is House Bill 579, which could limit local regulation of short-term rentals. Sandy Springs officials are especially concerned about a provision that would allow companies like Airbnb to pay taxes on behalf of their users without identifying them, making it difficult or impossible for the city to know whether the rental units comply with fire codes and other requirements.  Jim Tolbert, the city’s top planning official, previously called the bill “frightening” and “dangerous.”

State Rep. Matt Dollar (R-Marietta), the lead sponsor of the bill, represents part of Sandy Springs and has heard an earful from local officials. He says he a rewrite is coming, but Sandy Springs officials remain concerned at this point. After the Feb. 20 City Council meeting, City Attorney Dan Lee said he believes the bill as written would violate Article IX of the Georgia Constitution, which gives local governments broad authority to conduct planning and zoning.

Sandy Springs explicitly allowed short-term rentals for the first time in its new zoning code, which went into effect late last year. A short-term rental is any owner-occupied dwelling with space rented out for 30 days or less. The new regulations are amendments to the city’s licensing and permitting code to further tighten regulation. Tolbert has said he would like to see many of its provisions added to Dollar’s bill.

The city is concerned that short-term rentals can create safety and quality-of-life problems and may alter the housing market to displace long-term tenants or homeowners.

Tolbert previously said that in November, he found 211 short-term rentals offered in Sandy Springs via 10 different online companies. In 2016, a Reporter Newspapers review of the services Airbnb and Corporate Housing By Owner found dozens of local listings. Some of them were the type that concern city officials, such as a Buckhead “party house,” apartments being sub-rented against management’s rules, and a Perimeter Center condo that had served solely as a short-term rental investment property since 2010.

The city has discarded one regulatory idea that Tolbert previously proposed: requiring the property owner to be present during any rental. City Council members rejected that idea, he said.

In response to other councilmember questions, Tolbert said the short-term rental provisions should not affect hotels, which are licensed under a different section of the city code, and that there is no limit on the number of rooms rented out in any given property. The city’s dwelling unit occupancy limit of four unrelated people would apply, he said.

The regulations approved Feb. 20 include the following concepts, as described by Tolbert in a city staff memo:

  • All parking must be on the [short-term rental property’s] lot.
  • No short-term rental shall be allowed in subsidized housing.
  • All hosts shall post the city’s noise ordinance in a visible location.
  • The property owner must hold a business license from the city, and the unit must be registered as a short-term rental unit.
  • The business license number must be included in any advertisement of the short-term rental unit.
  • Before issuance of a permit for a short-term rental, each property shall be inspected for compliance with all building and fire codes.
  • All platforms and managers of multiple rental properties must register and provide detailed records of rental activity and taxes by rental unit.
  • An advertisement promoting the availability of short-term rental property in violation of city code is prima facie [meaning taken at face value unless proven otherwise] evidence of a breach and may be grounds for denial, suspension or revocation of a license.
  • All units must pay a business license fee and all hotel/motel taxes due.
  • Prior to the issuance of a permit for a short-term rental, the property owner must notify all property owners and residents within 500 feet of their intent to do so and provide contact information in the event of an issue or problem.
  • Information must be posted on the door of the property with the name and contact information of the owner and the phone number of the City Call Center for notification if [there are] problems.
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