The city of Brookhaven may restrict Airbnb and similar short-term home rental services in its new zoning code.
A proposed draft of the city’s zoning ordinance rewrite bans short-term rentals in residential neighborhoods and only allows them through a special land use permit process in multifamily residential properties, in certain areas of the Peachtree Overlay and the proposed new mixed-use districts.
But some Planning Commission members have said they believe homeowners ought to also have the right to list their property with short-term rental agencies like Airbnb as a way to make extra cash.
City Councilmember Joe Gebbia is the father of Airbnb co-founder and namesake Joe Gebbia. The topic of Airbnb has never been discussed publicly by the City Council but may soon be on its plate as the zoning rewrite moves forward.
In an interview last year, the councilmember said he is not an investor in the company estimated in value at $38 billion by Forbes. Gebbia said he did make a loan to his son to help start Airbnb, and the loan was paid back. He did say he regularly uses Airbnb himself when traveling and chastises friends who do not use the short-term rental agency.
A new draft of the zoning rewrite is set to be discussed at the Oct. 3 Planning Commission meeting, including options on how to regulate short-term rentals in the city. Members said at their meeting last month they were concerned the city was considering banning them in single-home residential neighborhoods.
“If we do not allow Airbnb in single-family neighborhoods, are we restricting the rights to the property owner legally?” asked Commissioner John Funny.
Attorney Laurel Henderson, working for the city, said there is no appellate case law dealing with short-term rentals. There is case law upholding the prohibition of short-term rentals in neighborhoods because they affect the character of the neighborhood, she said.
Case law does not back prohibiting such rentals in places such as apartment and condominium complexes, Henderson added.
Commissioner Bert Levy also noted the Super Bowl is coming to Atlanta next year, when thousands of people are expected to flood the city and will be looking for places to stay.
“Are we having issues affecting neighbors? Especially in light of the upcoming Super Bowl?” asked Commissioner Bert Levy. “Because that’s when everyone will be paying attention to our policy.”
Community Development Director Patrice Ruffin said the city has had a few complaints in the past year from homeowners saying a neighbor was renting out their home.
One case, for a man who purchased a home on Brooklawn Road as an investment property to specifically rent it out through Airbnb was taken to Municipal Court, she said. He was forced to quit renting the house out.
Airbnb and other short-term rental agencies are part of a booming, and controversial, industry where people rent out a room or their home to make money to supplement their incomes or to make extra cash. People wanting to rent out their space register with a company like Airbnb, which then matches them up with short-term renters through its online service. Airbnb collects a fee for the service.
Short-term rentals have been especially controversial in big cities, where they can act as significant competition with hotels while avoiding the same taxes and regulations. There are also concerns that short-term rentals inflate local housing markets, making it harder for long-term residents to afford housing. In 2014, the tourist-heavy city of Savannah, Ga., cracked down on short-term rentals as zoning violations.
But the suburbs of metro Atlanta have just recently started to deal with Airbnb when it comes to zoning regulations.
Brookhaven’s current zoning ordinance states houses used as short-term rentals on a primary or consistent basis are considered a commercial application and therefore not allowed in a residential zoning.
Funny noted that some homeowners often travel months at a time for their job and should be able to rent out their property.
At a zoning rewrite community meeting on Sept. 22, Ruffin said city staff will provide several options on how to regulate Airbnb in October to the Planning Commission and City Council after studying what other metro Atlanta cities are doing.
One option will include legalizing short-term rentals by establishing a regulatory system, she said, as done last year in Sandy Springs as part of its new Development Code.
In Sandy Springs, owners of short-term rentals are now 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 estimated by city officials at $21,000 a year.
But a bill introduced in the General Assembly during the last legislative session would allow companies like Airbnb to pay taxes on behalf of their users without identifying them, making it difficult or impossible for Sandy Springs to know whether the rental units comply with fire codes and other requirements.
Ultimately, Ruffin said, how to regulate Airbnb and short-term rentals will be a City Council policy decision.
“We are trying to address the issues … and will be providing multiple options,” she said.