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Heavy vacation rental regulations clear Hall Planning Commission
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From left, Hall County Planning Commission Chairman Don Smallwood and commissioners Chris Braswell and Johnny Varner listen to a proposal for new regulations on vacation rental homes in the county during their Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018, meeting. - photo by Nick Bowman

New restrictions for vacation rental homes were approved by the Hall County Planning Commission on Wednesday, Feb. 21, 2018.

New regulations for vacation rental properties being proposed by county planners make deep changes to the county code, including banning vacation rentals from the Residential-I zone and stepping up requirements to rent out homes in the Vacation-Cottage zone bordering Lake Lanier.

The new rules also try to address the fact that the vast majority of vacation rental properties are operating without business licenses or county oversight. If approved by the Hall County Board of Commissioners, the code changes would direct the Hall County Marshal’s Office to troll through popular rental sites like VRBO and AirBnb to make contact with homeowners renting their properties without licenses.

“It looks to me like it’s hard to hit everybody,” said Planning Commission Chairman Don Smallwood at the end of the meeting. “What we’re trying to do is cut out some of the problems that have surfaced.”

There are only eight homes that currently have vacation rental licenses, and those homes will be grandfathered into the new regulations so long as the owners maintain their licenses.

Homeowners operating without a license would face fines of up to $1,000 under the proposed regulations. Planning Director Srikanth Yamala told planning commissioners on Wednesday that the county’s first priority is to work with homeowners to bring them into compliance with county code and, failing that, would move onto fines.

The proposed rules include many other new requirements for property owners:

No more than four vehicles can be parked at a vacation rental property.

Each bedroom, adjoining hallway and common area must have a working smoke detector.

Vacation rentals with an approved occupancy of 16 or more people are considered “non-regular residences” and would require an onsite inspection and compliance with commercial building codes, including a commercial kitchen, ADA-compliant bathrooms and other requirements.

If a business license for a vacation rental is secured, the owner of the rental is required to pay for the county to send letters to all neighbors within 500 feet alerting them to the license.

Public comment was mixed at the meeting and included two homeowners who said they wanted to comply with county regulations but were worried about the lengths to which they would have to go to get there.

Mandy Harris told the commission she supported the new regulations given her experience with vacation rentals. She has been worried about letting her grandchild play in her yard because of the rental next door.

“I did not buy my home in 2003 with the intention of having, literally, a hotel-type environment next door to me,” Harris said. “On the weekends and afternoons when she’s at home with me, for me to not know who is coming and going next door is disconcerting for me.”

Sherry Millwood also supported the new regulations but said the proposed $1,000 fine didn’t go far enough.

“Maybe hit their pocketbook a little bit harder,” she said.

Meanwhile, two homeowners who spoke on Wednesday worried that the regulations would cast a blanket over the county that wouldn’t take their specific situations into account.

Erik Rowen said he lives in a three-house subdivision near Lake Lanier, but is in the R-I zone and not the V-C zone. Unaware of local regulations, he had been renting his second home out to help cover the costs of ownership, but stopped when he learned about the county rules and applied for a license. He was denied a license last year at the same time as the county commission hit the brakes on new vacation rental licenses.

Citing growing issues around Lake Lanier and throughout Hall with unlicensed, unregulated short-term rentals, late last year commissioners passed a moratorium on new licenses for vacation rental licenses through the end of March.

Meanwhile, commissioners directed staff to investigate new regulations for short-term rentals offered through websites like VRBO and AirBnb.

Rowen said he supported additional regulations for vacation rentals but wished the new county rules took his specific situation into account instead of laying down the blanket ban on rentals in the R-I zone.

Jay Smith, another lake homeowner who wants to rent out his house, presented the Planning Commission with a challenging case to fit into the new rules.

His grandfather purchased his lot in 1969 and built a seven-bedroom, six-bath house with a long, paved driveway and six parking spots.

He said his home comfortably slept more than 20 people, and he hoped to rent the property for family reunions. 

“I don’t want college kids, I don’t want rabble-rousers,” Smith said.

Within the proposed rules, he would have to make impossibly expensive changes to his home to meet county regulations. He said he hoped the regulations would allow for some leeway for property owners with unique living situations to fit within the county rules.

Yamala said the new rules would allow for variances, but they would need to be approved by planning staff, planning commissioners and county commissioners.

“I know there’s a need, and I want to bring families together to enjoy the lake,” Smith said. “I don’t think Lanier Islands should be the only people who have the corner on the market for that.”

The new regulations will be considered by the county commission in March.

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