The city of Atlanta is preparing a new system of registering and licensing short-term home rentals, but is waiting until after the Super Bowl tourist boom to present it, says City Councilmember Howard Shook.

“Everybody’s very sensitive right now about doing anything that might crimp someone’s Super Bowl experience,” said Shook, who represents Buckhead’s District 7.

City Councilmember Howard Shook.

Shook has been working with city staff on short-term rental regulations. So has Councilmember J.P. Matzigkeit of Buckhead’s District 8, who says he will seek a “bigger stick” in the form of higher fines.

Short-term rentals through such services as Airbnb have drawn concerns in Buckhead for large parties and a few significant criminal incidents, including a Dec. 12 shooting that left bullet holes in the front of a North Buckhead house. But the rentals are also a popular and convenient tourist business that a large number of residents and visitors will capitalize on during the Feb. 3 Super Bowl and 10-day party.

One short-term rental company, HomeAway, was doing proactive outreach in Buckhead before the Super Bowl. Kenyatta Mitchell, a consultant for the company, attended the Jan. 8 NPU-B meeting to “get out ahead of the Super Bowl” and “let you all know the company has a face.”

Mitchell said that the Super Bowl is known for attracting major short-term rental business and some problem actors, including “de facto brothels.” If anyone suspects there’s a problem with a HomeAway rental, she said, they can call the company’s hotline at 1-877-228-3145.

Airbnb and other short-term rental services have become increasingly controversial in local cities as they spread into the suburbs. Sandy Springs is rolling out a registration and licensing system, and Brookhaven recently banned such rentals in many single-family residential areas — despite Airbnb co-founder Joe Gebbia Jr.’s father being a member of the City Council.

“I suggested we just cut-and-paste the one Sandy Springs recently adopted,” Shook said of his discussions with city staff about an Atlanta ordinance.

City Councilmember J.P. Matzigkeit.

Atlanta officials say that short-term rentals are banned in single-family residential areas, but they have struggled with enforcement. A similar issue is the trend of “party mansions,” residential properties rented out for a single, large party or concert. That became an issue last year at a Garmon Road mansion previously owned by Kenny Rogers, and where police and city officials said they had limited enforcement options.

In a recent newsletter to constituents, Councilmember Matzigkeit said that short-term rental regulation is among his 2019 priorities.

“Turning a residence in a quiet neighborhood into a rental ‘party house’, or using a house repeatedly and disruptively for film projects or short-term rentals, infringes on neighbors and is illegal,” Matzigkeit wrote. “My goal: To reduce the instances of homes being used primarily as business ventures.”

He said he will seek state legislation authorizing higher city fines for “municipal offenses.” And, he said, work continues on city ordinances to make sure short-term rentals are “closely monitored and regulated to ensure bad players are stopped.

John Ruch

John Ruch is an Atlanta-based journalist. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.