Hall County’s number of short-term rentals has more than doubled since an ordinance allowing more homeowners to qualify was passed in March. Now, the county has a new system in place for neighbors to report concerns and for property owners to respond.
Planning and Development Director Srikanth Yamala said there are currently 41 registered short-term rentals in Hall, up from just 13 before the ordinance allowing all residential properties to qualify was passed. The county gave people some time to register their short-term rentals under the new rules — many short-term rentals had been operating without a license — and only started issuing citations on May 1. Since then, 61 citations have been issued by the Hall County Marshal’s Office for operating without a license.
Licensed properties can not only avoid a citation but are also marketed by the Lake Lanier Convention and Visitors Bureau, and they collect sales and occupancy taxes from visitors.
The county has a guidebook for short-term rental owners on its website.
When a business license is issued to a short-term rental, neighboring property owners within 500 feet of the property get a letter informing them their neighbor is operating a vacation rental. The county defines a short-term rental as a home rented out for two to 30 nights.
Those letters list a local contact person, who is supposed to be able to respond to a concern at the house within an hour.
Neighbors can report an issue with a short-term rental, such as noise or parking, to the 24-hour hotline at 770-637-6647. Yamala said the hotline had received 19 calls as of Thursday afternoon. It was set up in mid-April.
Yamala said the county contracts with a company called Host Compliance, which is based in the Silicon Valley area, to operate the hotline. The person reporting the complaint speaks to an operator, and the complainant can provide videos or photos as evidence of their concern.
The operator then sends a call about the complaint to the property’s local contact person. That call would likely not come from a number with a local area code, Yamala said. The complainant can request that they receive a call an hour later to update them on whether their concern was addressed.
County staff can review the calls to learn more about the situation.
“Every single call, including the audio and documentation submitted, as staff we get that information right away, it doesn’t matter the time of the day,” Yamala said.
The Marshal’s Office, which handles non-emergency short-term rental complaints, looks at the evidence and may go to the house to speak with people involved.
“Whether the marshals would go right away, it depends. It really depends on the situation and on the complaint,” Yamala said. “But the way the Marshal’s Office investigates is they go based on the complaint received. They talk to the complainant and they verify date-stamped photos and date-stamped videos to establish the authenticity of those documents.”
Yamala said people should always call 911 for emergencies.
The Marshal’s Office can issue a citation for a violation of a county ordinance, whether that pertains to noise, parking in the right-of-way, operating without a license or another concern.
The property owner has 15 days to file an appeal to the Hall County Board of Commissioners if they disagree with the citation. At an appeal hearing at a Board of Commissioners meeting, commissioners hear from both the person who filed the complaint and the property owner. Commissioners have heard one appeal so far, of a noise citation at a lake home in Buford, but denied the appeal at a May 23 meeting.
Yamala said the county has only received one other appeal, also of a noise citation given to the same Buford property owner.
The ordinance came with a new penalty structure. The first violation comes with a $500 fine, the second a $1,000 fine and the third a $2,000 fine, plus the revocation of the property owner's business license.