Atlanta City Councilmember Howard Shook’s newly filed legislation to ban short-term rentals in all single-family neighborhoods may be short-term itself after lawyers and fellow elected officials are through with it. But it’s having the intended effect as a shot across the bow, drawing reactions from the industry giant Airbnb and reviving long-stalled talks about a possible registration system and tighter ban on “party houses.”
“Diplomacy is the greatest weapon here,” said Pam O’Dell, executive director of the Short Term Rental Owners Association of Georgia, saying her group wants a seat at the table with residents and officials to talk about a solution short of a blanket ban.
Shook’s taste for diplomacy ran short in August when he became one of the unhappy neighbors of Buckhead’s latest notorious party mansion at 3511 Roxboro Road. Events there this year have resulted in dozens of police calls and operated under such promotions as “the biggest topless pool party ever.” Neighbors say the events have increased in the past two years 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.”
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. In early September, he filed the legislation seeking to ban short-term rentals.
J.P. Matzigkeit, Shook’s fellow City Council representative in Buckhead, signed onto the proposal. Last year, Matzigkeit was working with Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’ administration on other legislation to tighten restrictions on “party houses” in the zoning code to make it easier to declare them illegal commercial uses. That legislation is also stalled in Neighborhood Planning Unit review.
“Frankly, it will be better legislation when combined with short-term rental legislation,” said Matzigkeit. “That will give it much more meat and teeth and substance.”
Matzigkeit is an old hand at dealing with party mansions. Last year, he coordinated city and APD efforts that ended years of events at a notorious Garmon Road mansion, which involved jailing the operator and shutting off the water for unpaid bills.
Matzigkeit said he supports Shook’s nuclear-option call for a short-term rental ban. But, he said, he “absolutely” supports the creation of a registration and licensing system that would ensure operators are known to city officials and pay lodging taxes. “It’s a business. People are operating this as a business and we need to treat it as such,” he said.
The neighboring city of Sandy Springs has such a registration system and earlier this year said it had more than 50 registered.
The Mayor’s Office did not respond to questions about Shook’s proposal and the other pending legislation efforts.
Airbnb is not a fan of Shook’s legislation. In a written statement, the short-term rental company said, “The vast majority of Atlanta hosts are sharing their homes responsibly and a blanket ban would hurt thousands of local families who depend on the income they earn hosting to help pay the bills. We are committed to working with the city of Atlanta to reasonably address quality of life issues, while preserving property rights for residents.”
The Roxboro Road mansion was rented out via Airbnb, according to the Atlanta Police Department. Airbnb said that it has since removed that property from its listings, and has made other policy changes related to party uses.
“Last year, we introduced a ban on ‘party houses’ — meaning, listings which cause repeated neighborhood nuisance” and created a “neighborhood support line” for unhappy neighbors to call, said the Airbnb statement. And on Aug. 20, Airbnb banned parties and events altogether.
O’Dell said her short-term rental association draws a distinction between rentals that are for lodging and those that are venues for parties. She indicated her group might be open to a registration system and suggested as one reform that the law requires short-term rentals to be a minimum two-night stay to ensure the use is lodging-oriented.
O’Dell would not say how many members her group has, but claimed that, without a staff, it can organize peer groups of short-term operators to deal with neighbors’ complaints. “We can do a lot more than a local government to stop any disruption at a short-term rental,” she said, adding that does not include party hours, which the group “can’t do anything about.”
Most important, she said, is that short-term rental operators be involved in discussions about legislation, because otherwise, the result will be “misguided and ineffective.”
Meanwhile, Matzigkeit is dealing with yet another party house. The mansion at 3234 Andrews Court had 45 police calls for service between June 20 and Sept. 18, according to APD records, including Aug. 15 reports of gunshots. Among the incidents was an Aug. 23 birthday party with over 100 guests, shuttle service, a $40 “gift” to enter and “at least six female strippers,” according to an APD report. Flourish Home Investors LLC of Decatur, the owner listed in Fulton County property records, did not respond to a comment request and is under notice of being dissolved by the Georgia Secretary of State’s Office for failure to register, according to state records.