The city of Sandy Springs has been enforcing its regulation of short-term home rentals for a year by issuing citations to residents who have not yet complied. Since the regulations went into effect, nearly 130 properties have either been issued warnings or citations, and about 54 properties currently are registered for short-term rentals.

Mayor Rusty Paul says the regulations provide peace of mind of residents, but new legislation could take away the power.

Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul.

“These local controls contribute to the preservation of our neighborhoods,” Paul said in an email. “It is very much worth the time and effort.”

An effort was recently revived during the legislative session as House Bill 523, which would prohibit cities from creating regulations for short-term rentals. Paul does not agree with that restriction.

“It’s a situation where we’re running into this divide with the legislature where there’s no understanding of the unique situation that more densely populated parts of the state face,” Paul said at a Feb. 4 City Council meeting.

In February 2018, the City Council passed rules requiring owners of short-term rental properties listed on sites like Airbnb to receive a business license and pay hotel taxes. The ordinance went into effect in May of 2018, but the city did not start enforcing it until January 2019.

By mid-January 2019, only two properties had registered. By mid-February 2020, the city had around 54 rentals registered with the city, city spokesperson Sharon Kraun said in an email.

According to records obtained through an Open Records request, since January 2019, about 86 warnings have been sent and around 38 citations have been issued.

The city uses a third-party vendor called Host Compliance to monitor short-term rental activity. According to a city memo, the city pays $21,101 per year for Host Compliance’s services.
Host Compliance’s CEO and founder Ulrik Binzer said that his company uses software to check registrations against rental sites.

“We help them identify the addresses of the short-term rental operators in the city by scanning all of the short-term rental websites every couple of days,” Binzer said.

Binzer said the company mails notices to people who are found to be in violation, using a template from the city.

Paul said the city chose to enact the ordinance to maintain community neighborhoods.

“Our residents have a right to know who is renting the property next door and that measures are in place to maintain community neighborhoods in the residential framework in which they were created,” Paul said in an email.

Sandy Springs explicitly allowed short-term rentals for the first time in its new zoning code, which went into effect in late 2017, and passed the registration and license requirements to create some regulation.

Owners of short-term rentals are required to pay all hotel/motel taxes and $125 in fees for the business license, which must be renewed annually at the same price. Other requirements include notifying adjacent property owners and homeowners associations, providing detailed records of rental activity to the city, and giving emergency contact information to everyone living within 500 feet.

Property owners must also post the city’s noise ordinance and be inspected for compliance with all building and fire codes.

Complaints about short-term rentals can be made to the city’s Call Center at 770-730-5600 or sandyspringsga.gov.

Metro Atlanta cities and local governments across the nation are working on how to regulate the rental properties, which have become controversial, especially in big cities like Atlanta, where they can compete with hotels while avoiding the same taxes and regulations.

The Brookhaven City Council voted in late 2018 to completely ban short-term rentals in many residential neighborhoods as part of a rewrite of the city’s zoning code.

Airbnb has been involved in lawsuits with larger cities trying to regulate short-term rentals. In San Francisco, the company sued the city in 2017 over a decision the city made to fine short-term rental companies $1,000 a day for every unregistered host on their websites. But so far, no legal action has been taken against Atlanta or metro Atlanta cities.

“Airbnb has and continues to work with jurisdictions and government officials across Georgia on fair and reasonable regulations that allow all to fully realize the benefits of home sharing, while providing our host community with clear and effective paths to compliance,” a spokesperson for the company said in an email.

State legislation introduced in 2017’s lawmaking session threatened to wipe out any local control on short-term rentals, drawing remarks from Jim Tolbert, Sandy Springs assistant city manager that the bill was “frightening” and “dangerous.” The bill stalled and did not get a vote.

Now, a similar bill has been introduced that would prohibit local governments from creating regulations for short-term rental properties and would not allow cities to require licenses. It would also make the distinction of short-term rentals being up to 30 days and long term being past 30 days.

The bill is currently in the House and further action is expected during the legislative session.