Gainesville hotels have some new regulations after the City Council approved a set of code amendments Tuesday, including restrictions on lengths of stays and record-keeping requirements.
Hotels are allowed to provide lodging in a room for up to 15 days, while guests at extended-stay hotels can stay for up to 30 days. Any hotel that has fixed cooking appliances or a kitchen in at least 5% of the rooms would be designated as extended-stay.
Those limits on stays received some negative feedback from community members at a November meeting of the Gainesville Planning and Appeals Board. Opponents said the restrictions would burden the city’s homeless population.
City officials heard that feedback and adjusted the ordinance, allowing for some exceptions to the limits on lengths of stays. Hotel guests would be exempt from the limits if they:
Have official documentation from a nonprofit housing agency or shelter stating that the person has no other housing option than a hotel (extended-stay lodging only)
Are with a business or government entity that has a written agreement with the hotel to house employees or contractors or their families
Are family members or caregivers of hospital or medical facility patients
Have been displaced due to a fire or natural disaster and have documentation from an insurance company or government agency
A requirement to wait two weeks between hotel stays, which was in the originally proposed ordinance, has been removed from the amended version.
The city had already defined lodging services as facilities that offer the same room for 15 or fewer days, while Gainesville’s definition of extended stay lodging services has been facilities that offer accommodations for more than 15 days and up to a month in the same room. The new ordinance has a section titled “maximum length of occupancy” that clarifies those limits.
Hotels are required to record the number of occupants, as well as the phone number and name of the person paying for the room. They also have to record room numbers assigned to each person, arrival and departure times, and room rates.
Other restrictions on extended-stay hotels include requirements that the hotels have at least three washers and three dryers, that rooms be at least 300 square feet, and the hotel be on at least a 2-acre lot. Existing hotels will be grandfathered in as “legal, non-conforming uses,” according to the ordinance.
City officials said Tuesday the focus of the regulations is public safety, and hotels being used as long-term living spaces can become a fire hazard. Fire Chief Jerome Yarbrough said inspections have found missing or broken smoke detectors, and people who are cooking in the room may be using equipment unsafe for the space. He said the rooms can also get crowded with people and their belongings, making it difficult to leave in an emergency.
“You have entire families, sometimes more than one family, staying in one room, which causes some egress problems,” Yarbrough said.
Police Chief Jay Parrish said crime rates are higher at extended-stay hotels than other hotels.
“It’s not families that I’m concerned about. I understand the reasons that they’re there,” Parrish said. “... But what we see on the police side, is a lot of times these locations are set up for long-term stays, it allows drug dealers to set up business in there. We’ve had prostitution investigations in some of these.”
The proposal received some opposition from community members Tuesday. Christine Osasu of Habitat for Humanity of Hall County said requiring people with no other housing options to receive documentation from a nonprofit burdens both the nonprofits and the people they serve.
“The nonprofits are already overburdened. You can check that by calling tomorrow and trying to find a place to stay tomorrow,” Osasu said. “So, an additional piece of paperwork, on one hand is overburdening the nonprofits, but secondarily, it’s making it more difficult for the people seeking this shelter. Many of these people don’t have access to transportation. They’re riding buses. They’re catching rides with friends. This is just one more place they’re going to have to go.”
Councilman George Wangemann was the only opposing vote Tuesday.
"I don’t want to see people chased out of their living quarters after a short period of time. Sometimes that is all they can afford,” Wangemann said. “Affordable housing is scarce and we ought to be a bit more accommodating while fighting crime simultaneously."
The regulations were part of a list of code amendments voted on as one item.