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Hall County wants a cut of lake home rentals
Change in law could help bring tourism dollars from licenses, taxes
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Hall County officials are discussing changing the law to allow short-term rentals for homes on Lake Lanier, something Convention and Visitors Bureau President Stacey Dickson said will be a “game changer” for tourism in Hall County.

Dickson said vacation rentals would broaden the county’s options for tourists and attract more overnight visitors, who pour money into the local economy.

“Once we get it ramped up, I think it could be very lucrative,” Dickson. “When you start thinking about a visitor that’s committing to stay four, five, seven, 14 days, then you’re impacting the grocery stores and all of the attractions and amenities ... the increase in the tax is so minor compared to what the overflow is going to be into
our businesses.”

Currently, hundreds of homes along Lake Lanier’s shore are being marketed as vacation rental homes illegally on the Internet. Hall County hopes to regulate this practice and get a cut of the profitable business.

Commissioner Billy Powell thinks it would be beneficial for the county to get involved as soon as possible.

“It is happening now with no benefit or regulation by the county or to the county,” Powell said. “They don’t pay any hotel/motel tax at all.”

Homeowners are also likely to get a boost if the county approves the changes.

“The visitor’s going to pay the tax, not the homeowner,” Powell said. “If they’re licensed and we know about them, the Convention and Visitors Bureau can promote them.”

Dickson said while there always have been hotels available for visitors, home rentals open up a new market. Groups traveling for events like family reunions and girls weekends are a better fit for lake homes.

“They’re looking for somewhere they can cook and maybe have a boat and go out on a lake,” Dickson said.

But Powell wants to keep the wishes of permanent residents a priority.

“We certainly don’t want to do anything to upset the residential character and peaceful setting of our lakeshore neighborhoods,” Powell said.

Hall County Planning Director Randy Knighton said the proposed ordinance would cover only homes located in the Vacation Cottage zoning district.

“Vacation Cottage zoning districts virtually follow the lake,” Knighton said. “They basically follow the unincorporated boundaries along Lake Lanier.”

Knighton said there are about 2,000 homes that fall under the vacation cottage designation. Of those, about 175 of those have been identified as rentals.

Assistant County Administrator Phil Sutton said property owners who wish to rent their homes to tourists on a short-term basis would be treated as hoteliers. They would be required to apply for a business license and comply with Hall County’s environmental health regulations before they would be allowed to rent their property legally.

Business licenses start at $116 annually and go up depending on the number of people working in the business, Hall County Business License Director Susan Rector said.

The owners would be responsible for collecting the hotel/motel tax— 5 percent of the rent — from visitors to send to the county’s business license office.

Some voiced concerns that it would be difficult to make property owners comply with changes.

“I don’t think its worse than any other enforcement issue we have to deal with,” Sutton said. “It’s frankly a bigger enforcement issue if we don’t do something about it.”