After a rough stretch when the COVID-19 pandemic made travel difficult, short-term rental properties are thriving in Hall County.
Lara Morrill and her husband, Bill, manage a three-bedroom rental home on the northwest side of Lake Lanier, near Cool Springs, and she said she’s been much busier than expected since starting in December of last year. One of her nextdoor neighbors who just bought a home is planning on renting too, she said.
“We just kind of put a feeler out, and it was just really surprising how many people wanted to vacation there even in January and February,” Morrill said. “A lot of people, we were surprised, were booking an available week because they wanted a quiet place to work. They wanted a place to get away to.”
Tim Evans, the Greater Hall County Chamber of Commerce vice president of economic development, expects the short-term rental market to stay strong in Hall County through the rest of the year, he wrote in a statement. Rising airfare costs are a contributing factor, he wrote, because those costs may cause people to look for vacations within driving distance.
“Our location in the Atlanta-Greenville-Charlotte region puts us within a few hours drive of more than 15 million people, but the largest part of that market, the Metro Atlanta Region, is right next door to us,” Evans wrote. “Many events, family gatherings and weddings that were postponed in 2020 are back on in 2021.”
Short-term rentalsHall County in 2019 established procedures for short-term rental properties, allowing them with county business licenses. Here’s a look at how the numbers have changed since then.
Tax revenue from rentals
Evolve Vacation Rental, which manages seven short-term rentals in Hall County, has seen bookings remain relatively steady from 2020 into 2021, according to a statement from Ashley Taylor, senior manager of communications for Evolve. This may be a testament to increased popularity of vacation rentals as a safer option for travel during the pandemic, Taylor wrote.
“During the height of COVID, most guests chose to stay closer to home, with 54.2% traveling from locations less than 100 miles away from Hall County between March and June of 2020, as opposed to 41.4% the same timeframe in 2021,” Taylor wrote.
During the summer, Morrill said they have had lots of families, who wanted a typical summer vacation, rent their property on the lake, but they have also rented to some people who wanted a place where they could recover after losing a loved one to COVID-19 over the past year. Some even used the home as a place to reunite several family members after a loss, she said.
They’ve implemented a flexible cancelation policy allowing guests to cancel up to 24 hours in advance, Morrill said, which gives guests more security during the pandemic when people might change plans quickly. About half of their guests have been from out of state, she said. They are busy through mid-August, she said, but expect business might slow down in the fall with school starting, the weather turning a little cooler and because of concerns over the COVID-19 delta variant and a recent rise in COVID-19 cases in the area.
In March 2019, the county changed its short-term rental ordinance to allow homes in any zoning district to serve as short-term rentals with approval of a county business license. Short-term is defined as two to 30 nights. By the end of 2019, the county had 64 active business licenses. There are now 131 active business licenses contributing $135,537 in tax revenue this year through July.
The increased activity has brought some complaints, too. The Hall County Marshal’s office has had 55 cases this year related to short-term rentals as of July 29 and last year had only 10 cases, with less activity during times when COVID-19 case numbers were much higher.
Neighbors can call a hotline if they have complaints regarding a nearby rental property, and the complaint must be resolved within an hour or the property owner risks being issued a violation.
Marshal’s Office Capt. Barry Shaw said the complaints they receive the most often are about noise or people parking in the wrong places. They try to resolve most issues without having to issue a citation, Shaw said, though this won’t always make everyone happy.
“Most of the friction comes from a permanent resident having a rental next door,” Shaw said. “What they tell me is, ‘It’s like having people on vacation next door to me every day of the week.’”
Most cases are resolved shortly after the property owner is notified of a complaint, he said.