In the next week, Hall County will have a plan to pull homeowners renting their property on sites like AirBnb and VRBO into compliance with the county’s new regulations.
On March 22, the Hall County Board of Commissioners approved new rules for the vacation rentals in the county. Despite initial misgivings, Stacey Dickson, president of the Lake Lanier Convention and Visitors Bureau said Wednesday, March 28, she believed the new rules would be successful.
The revised code section, Chapter 17.216, is a far cry from the rules first proposed by county planners in February:
Vacation rentals are a permitted use in the Vacation-Cottage zone around Lake Lanier and require no public approval process.
Homes in Agricultural Residential-III and Agricultural Residential-IV may be rented out with the approval of the Hall County Planning Commission.
Homes in the Residential-I zone may be rented with Planning Commission approval if they’re within 500 feet of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers line around the lake and in a subdivision of 10 homes or less.
Agricultural properties weren’t much discussed in debate over vacation rentals, but Planning Director Srikanth Yamala said Wednesday there are rural North Hall properties on large farm lots with a stake in the vacation rental market and can be rented without disturbing neighbors.
Dickson said Wednesday she believed the commission had threaded the needle with the new rules, creating a system of regulations that would be fair and enforceable. Dickson spoke to commissioners March 19 to warn against going too far in regulating vacation rentals.
When first proposed, the rule changes would have made it difficult for a home to be rented in the county. Those regulations would have proposed commercial building and ADA standards on any home sleeping more than six people and limited cars on a lot, no matter how large, to four vehicles. Rentals were to be banned in the Residential-I zone, and those in the Vacation-Cottage zone around Lake Lanier would have required a public approval process and vetting by the neighborhood through public notices.
Though the adopted rules are more lax than originally proposed, they still set stiffer rules than what was on the books before:
Vacation rentals must have a local contact person at least 21 or older registered with the county, and that person must be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to respond to a county complaint within one hour.
Customers renting a property have to have a “responsible person” who must be at least 25 years old on site. They’re legally responsible for “ensuring that all occupants or guests of the short-term rental comply with all” county laws and regulations.
A home must be rented for a minimum two nights, and renters are required to acknowledge county regulations and agree to comply with them.
A separate business license is required for each home rented out in the county and must be renewed annually.
Violations carry fines of $250 for the first violation and $1,000 for the third. On a third violation, a business license will be revoked for two years. Homeowners found to be operating without a business license will be fined $500.
County officials are meeting this week to draft a plan for enforcement of the new rules, according to county spokeswoman Katie Crumley.
Additional enforcement was the most common demand made by homeowners wary of vacation rentals during debate about the new rules.
“The biggest point I think of all of this is you’re going to have people who are going to get a business license and be in compliance and those that are not,” Commissioner Billy Powell said March 22. “No matter how many regulations there are, if we don’t know it’s going on we can’t enforce it. That’s why we have beefed up the complaint section in this new ordinance.”
Planning involves the county’s business license office, Planning Department, Hall County Marshal’s Office and the Hall County Sheriff’s Office.
Next week, commissioners will be walked through the plan during their meetings on Monday and Thursday, according to Crumley and Yamala.
On enforcement, the county has its work cut out for it. The visitors bureau estimates there are 140 rental homes in unincorporated Hall County. When the new rules were approved, the county only had eight properties licensed on its books, meaning almost all of the 140 — which don’t include homes in Gainesville, Flowery Branch and Oakwood — are being rented out by owners without business licenses.
While the enforcement plan isn’t final, Yamala said the county is likely going to send out notices to property owners in the rental market without a license advising them of a grace period to get registered before fines take effect.
It’s not all enforcement and fines for rental properties, Dickson said. While they would have to collect hotel taxes from customers, property owners would have access to CVB marketing resources once registered — and she said it’s not Atlanta vacationers looking to rent. Dickson said the CVB regularly helps the film industry find lake homes to both shoot and rent for actors and others involved in the production.
“We’re the camera-ready office for Hall County, and our most requested locations are houses in the lake,” Dickson said. “We work with any homeowner whether they’re a vacation rental or just a private residence that wants to be a film location, but a lot of our vacation rentals are prime locations for filming because they have the flexibility of vacancy.”