It’s a familiar story in Buckhead: a lavish mansion is rented out for noisy parties that, neighbors complain, continue even after the arrest of an owner and operator. But this time, one of those neighbors is Atlanta City Councilmember Howard Shook, and he’s doing more than calling the cops — he’s filing legislation to totally ban short-term rentals in single-family neighborhoods.
The mansion at 3511 Roxboro Road in Ridgedale Park racked up 34 noise complaints and 55 other police calls between Jan. 1 and Aug. 21, according to Atlanta Police Department records, while hosting such events as “the biggest topless pool party ever,” a $30-a-ticket affair on May 23 that apparently made the celebrity news site TMZ. The rental activity — often booked through Airbnb — has increased in the past two years, neighbors say, since the mansion was vacated by former owner and star musician Young Thug.
“Ironically, the best, quietest neighbor we had was a rapper. That was Young Thug,” said Shook. “And God, if I had known he was gonna be the best owner we ever had, I’d have taken him a Bundt cake.”
According to APD, Fulton County property records, and a real estate agent who has listed the mansion for sale, the current owners are Alexander and Carmen Popovitch of Roswell, who are also involved in the ownership of some Atlanta strip clubs. They did not immediately respond to a comment request made through the real estate agent, Rashar Knight.
Alexander Popovitch, according to APD, was arrested Aug. 18 on Buckhead’s Peachtree Road on accusations of driving with a fraudulent temporary tag and without registration, and on a warrant for operating a business without a license — meaning the Roxboro Road mansion rentals. But the courts remain closed by the pandemic, and Ridgedale Park neighbors — who met with APD officers about the issue Aug. 22 — say the parties continued after the arrests, though the site was quiet in the week of Aug. 23.
The legal status and enforcement on such rentals in single-family neighborhoods has bedeviled city government for years during the rise of the short-term rental business. Shook noted a long-stalled city proposal to register and license short-term rentals, which was put on hold to allow homeowners to make money from tourists when Atlanta hosted the 2019 Super Bowl.
“I’m on Year Three of waiting for the planning department short-term rental legislation, and I’m done,” Shook said. “…I’m going to introduce legislation Monday that deems short-term rentals an illegal use in single-family neighborhoods.”
He declined to provide a draft of that legislation prior to its planned Aug. 31 filing, and it remains to be seen whether it will be politically viable or more of a conversation-starter.
City officials have long said that single-family residences used exclusively or primarily for short-term rentals are illegal under the existing zoning code as commercial uses. That is the grounds for APD to issue the arrest warrant for Popovitch. Similar charges against an operator helped to end a years-long saga of parties in 2019 at 4499 Garmon Road, another lavish Buckhead mansion once owned by another star musician, Kenny Rogers. But for neighbors like Shook — whose Eulalia Road home stands about 450 feet from the Roxboro Road mansion — the emphasis is on “years-long.” Shook said he wants to see faster and more decisive enforcement.
The Roxboro Road mansion was built in 2000, according to property records, and has about 8,700 square feet of living space. Young Thug bought it in 2016, but soon ran into a legal dispute over loan payments, as the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported. In June 2019, he transferred the property to the Popovitches for $1.8 million, according to property records.
In May of this year, according to online real estate listing services, the Popovitches put the mansion on the market at an asking price of $3.5 million. Photos accompanying the listings show various luxurious fixtures, including a central pool flanked by stone sculptures of sphinxes and capped by huge skylight.
Shook claims that the design feature of an interior pool surrounded by bedrooms means the property is destined to be a party mansion.
“It’s a motel,” he said of the layout. “The von Trapp family is never going to live there. It’s always going to be a problem.”
According to APD records, police and city officials have been investigating and attempting to shut down the mansion rentals for more than eight months. APD concluded in a June 10 report that the property “is being operated like a nightclub.” On Jan. 17, officials with the Atlanta Department of City Planning attempted to serve the Popovitches with a zoning code violation notice, but could not locate them, according to APD.
Meanwhile, according to APD records, neighborhood complaints continued. Police reports and call logs for the property from Jan. 1 through Aug. 21 show several types of reports besides the bevy of noise complaints, including two fights in progress, two larceny complaints, and a larceny from a vehicle.
According to APD, an Airbnb account for the property, branded as “The Buckhead Estate,” was created by Briania Janea Simmons of Fairburn, whose name also appeared on the Georgia Power utility account for the mansion.
On May 5, according to APD reports, officers allegedly found Simmons in charge of a noisy party at the mansion and cautioned her. On May 6, they allegedly found her in charge of another loud party and cited her for “prohibited conduct.”
On May 14, according to APD, Simmons was issued a Code Enforcement citation accusing her of an illegal use of property by operating a commercial event facility in a residential zone. Alexander Popovitch was also on the scene and was briefly handcuffed while officers obtained a similar citation to give to him, according to APD.
Other people were cited on accusations of holding loud parties, including two different North Carolina men on May 7 and 8, and a woman from Ellenwood, Georgia, on July 22.
Visitors to the mansion have filed some complaints, too. On May 27, a Lawrenceville woman filed a complaint of a missing phone, driver’s license and credit cards after she visited the mansion and several other locations. She said that she and some friends had visited a nightclub until 2 a.m., then went to a “house party” at the mansion. At the mansion, she and a friend took a shower, but were interrupted by other friends who said they had to leave immediately “because another unknown male pulled out a handgun,” according to a police report.
On June 21, a Michigan man at the property told APD his vehicle was broken into and a handgun stolen from it. An APD officer noted the property had security cameras, but the victim said he didn’t know who to call for the footage because it was an “Airbnb house.”
APD enforcement efforts stepped up after the Memorial Day weekend topless pool party, which police say was organized online by someone using the handle “StripClubMafia.” That appears to be the same party featured in a video posted by the celebrity news site TMZ showing a crowd ignoring the pandemic’s social distancing safety guidelines. Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms was “extremely disappointed” by the event, the Mayor’s Office told TMZ at the time. Alexander Popovitch was present at the party, according to an APD report.
On May 29, APD sought arrest warrants for Simmons and Alexander Popovitch on charges of operating a business without a license and for illegal use of a property operating a commercial event facility. Popovitch was arrested at in the Aug. 18 traffic stop, and Simmons turned herself in at Buckhead’s Zone 2 precinct on Aug. 19, according to APD. Both were transported to the city jail, according to APD.