Keith and Margaret Platt have gotten to meet people from all over the world, including China, Ireland, Poland, Africa and Canada — all without leaving their Oakwood home.
The Platts rent out a terrace-level apartment at their home on Lake Lanier as a vacation rental, and now that all homes in the county can be short-term rentals if homeowners get a business license, Hall County could be seeing more people like them become hosts for sites like VRBO and Airbnb.
In March, the Hall County Board of Commissioners approved changes to the county’s short-term rental rules that allow homes in all zoning districts to be short-term rentals, or to be rented out for two to 30 nights. Previously, only homes zoned Residential-I were eligible, and they had to be within 500 feet of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ line for Lake Lanier.
While the Platts were not eligible to operate a short-term rental under the old ordinance due to their home’s zoning, they can now legally operate and are praising the changes.
“This is a revenue source for the community,” Keith Platt said. “Not only does it bring more tax dollars in to Hall County and the community, it also brings in more revenue to restaurants, marinas, Road Atlanta, other areas.”
The Platts have even hosted their own neighbors who were having their home painted and housed neighbors’ guests from out of town.
When the Platts learned last year that they needed a business license to run a short-term rental, they tried to get one and were disappointed to learn they did not qualify. They had worked hard to earn a five-star rating with Airbnb but blocked off their available dates online so nobody could book a stay with them until they were licensed.
They said they understand concerns some people have about living next door to a party house or having the street blocked with cars from a vacation rental. They don’t want those problems at their home, either, they said.
“You have to vet people and make sure they’re coming for the right reasons,” Margaret Platt said.
Keith Platt said there is a responsible way to operate a vacation rental, and being careful can help property owners protect their homes, too.
“We as property owners live here too, and we want the bad apples weeded out if neighbors are having people coming in and having crazy parties,” he said.
In 2018, the Hall County Marshal’s Office received 10 complaints about short-term rentals and issued six citations, according to reports obtained by The Times. Six of those were in the Hall County Board of Commissioners’ District 2, which includes portions of west and south Hall. Three property owners received citations for operating without a license, and one was cited for cars parked in the right of way.
People can call 770-637-6647 24 hours a day to report an issue with a rental. The county is offering a grace period through April 30 for people to come into compliance with the new rules.
Other rules include a ban on parking in streets or in yards. Occupancy is limited to two adults per bedroom, plus three additional occupants.
According to records received April 8, there were 16 licensed short-term rentals in Hall. Planning Director Srikanth Yamala said in March that there were 135 being advertised in the county.
Sheridan Renfroe of Buford rents her home when her family takes trips in their motor home. She said that operating a vacation rental is “not as easy as it looks.”
“The prep work is a lot, to get ready for someone who is going to be in your home,” she said. “You want to make sure everything is right.”
She is relatively new to renting and has only had five guests, but she said the guests have been mostly respectful in her home. And while it can be stressful to get ready for a stay, it is worth it financially, she said.
“If it pays your house payment for a month, it’s well worth it for a weekend,” she said.
Stacey Dickson, president of the Lake Lanier Convention and Visitors Bureau, said vacation rentals are becoming more popular as people look for a “home away from home.”
“About half the market is looking for hotels and half the market is looking for vacation rentals across the board nationally,” she said. “Demand has definitely grown over the last few years as more properties come online and become available.”
Dickson said lake homes are in especially high demand, and people want room to bring a group or gather with their travel companions.
“There’s a lot of multi-generational travel that happens now, where the grandparents, their kids and the grandkids are all traveling together,” Dickson said. “What might be three or four hotel rooms, the cost for that instead goes into renting a house where they can have a shared common area and a kitchen to bring their food. There’s outdoor spaces like patios or docks or fire pits.”
Jeff Hylton owns the Ark on Lake Lanier, a Gainesville home that can sleep 45 guests. He said the majority of his guests are families hosting reunions, and they want extra space and to be on the lake. He has been operating the rental since 2013.
He said screening guests protects both the property and the neighbors.
“We don’t want any fraternity parties or sorority parties, anyone underage, and no big events or big parties,” Hylton said. “… Usually that entails us talking to them at length and making sure that what they want to do isn’t going to be a loud, boisterous party that bothers the neighbors.”
His nephew lives across the street from the rental and monitors for noise, parking issues and other violations. Hylton is about a 10-minute drive away, too.
“People will come in when they’re on vacation,” he said. “They might want to have a little more fun than they typically have at home. It is the lake. But it can get done the right way.”