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Hall County to revisit vacation rental rules
North Hall complaints spurring review
Scott Gibbs 2013
Hall County Commissioner Scott Gibbs

Hall County is reviewing how it regulates vacation rental homes — and how it can stop unlicensed rentals in neighborhoods.

Complaints spurring the latest look into short-term rentals of residential property are coming from the North Hall neighborhoods of Cherokee Forest and Northlake Road off Cleveland Highway.

They surfaced during the Hall County Board of Commissioners’ Monday work session, when Commissioner Scott Gibbs relayed the complaints from his district of college fraternity-style gatherings at residences that had been rented out online, or vacation rentals by owner.

“I don’t see the benefit of the VRBO, I’m going to just tell you, because it opens our neighborhoods up for problems,” Gibbs said.

He told The Times on Tuesday that residents of Cherokee Forest have woken up to beer and liquor bottles strewn about their yards and have been dealing with residential roads choked with cars.

Short-term rentals through websites like VRBO and Airbnb have become common in Hall County — especially along Lake Lanier, where relatively limited commercial space along the lake itself has put a premium on beds for rent.

Susan Rector, director of the Hall County Business License Department, agreed on Monday that the county needs “a little more regulation” on vacation rentals.

“We need to be a little more specific about the number of people who can be in the home in (a) … single-family residence,” Rector said.

As they’ve become prevalent nationwide, property owners looking to earn extra income from their real estate have been put on collision courses with cities and counties, which want to have enough control to prevent de facto hotels from operating in residential areas.

In more populated areas, municipalities also don’t want to miss out on hotel and bed tax revenue.

That’s not likely the case in Hall County, where most of the hotels are located within city limits. The county’s 5 percent hotel and motel tax brought in only $28,432 in fiscal year 2017, according to Rector.

The county divides rentals into two categories: short-term (a month or less) and long-term rentals of more than a month.

Long-term rentals are allowed in every residential zone, according to Hall County Planning Director Srikanth Yamala. Short-term rentals are only allowed in the vacation-cottage district along the shore of Lake Lanier and the Residential-I zone so long as certain conditions are met.

Along with zoning, the county requires homeowners who rent out their property to register with the county, get a business license and pay excise taxes regardless of their zone. The current rules were approved in 2010.

Almost everyone ignores these requirements.

The county has only nine licensed vacation rental locations, according to Rector. There are dozens and dozens of properties listed on VRBO and Airbnb.

It’s difficult to enforce county regulations on vacation rentals because, especially with VRBO, home addresses aren’t publicly listed on the website. Instead, it’s disclosed by the homeowner during the process of renting the property, Rector said.

And when homeowners find out it’s the county asking for information, they stop responding.

Given that the issue was only raised on Monday, the county doesn’t have a clear direction for where to take its vacation rental rules after the 2010 rewrite.

Yamala said Tuesday that his staff and Rector’s office will work together to propose a revision to the current code and make a proposal to the commission.

“I hate for a few people to ruin it for everybody, but at the end of the day I’m worried about the people who live here and call it home,” Gibbs said.

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