Avondale Estates sends violation notices to owners of homes listed on Airbnb, VRBOAvondale Estates City Hall. Photo by Dean Hesse.
This story has been updated.
Avondale Estates, GA — The city of Avondale Estates recently sent about 11 violation notices to residents who are renting out properties or an accessory dwelling unit on a short-term basis, using services like Airbnb or VRBO, violating the city’s zoning code.
“The letter serves as an official notification informing the party that it’s their duty to contact the city to correct the violation,” a spokesperson for the city said. “Failure to respond and demonstrate compliance with the zoning ordinance may result in the issuance of a citation and penalties that are outlined in the code.”
In some cases, short-term rentals are prohibited within the city. The city commission began a discussion on March 23 to clarify the rules regarding short-term rentals in the city and think about whether the board would like to amend the zoning code.
The Avondale Estates City Commission updated its zoning code in 2021. Prior to the zoning code rewrite, residents were not allowed to rent any portion of their property for any length of time. Under the new zoning code, short-term rentals are restricted in the following ways:
– Short-term rentals that are less than 30 days for an accessory dwelling unit are prohibited.
– Short-term whole house rentals are also not allowed.
– But with a conditional use permit and a business license, property owners who use their home as their primary residence, are on the premise and serve a meal can rent out space within that home for shorter periods of time and operate as a bed and breakfast.
“Those folks who do that, can advertise on whatever means they want to, such as Airbnb or VRBO or what have you, and if granted the conditional use [permit] and the business license can do it within the bounds of our existing code,” City Manager Patrick Bryant said at the March 23 city commission work session. “It’s hard for us to enforce that until we get information from folks running those, after we send our warning letters. The benchmark for staff for enforcement is, if somebody is advertising on Airbnb, we’ll send them a letter and then address them on a case by case basis.”
To qualify for the conditional use permit and business license, the homeowner would have to be on site to rent out their space.
“For example, right now, the code does not allow you to go out of town and rent your space out. You have to be there in order to qualify for the conditional use and the business license component,” Bryant said.
There is one distinction to this. If an accessory dwelling unit does not have a separate kitchen facility, then it can be considered a candidate for a short term rental. But if an ADU has a separate kitchen facility, it can be rented out for 30 days or more, but not less than 30 days.
“The process for folks who are meeting the definition of the regular BnB would just have to apply for a conditional use permit, which would be the discretion of the board, and then apply for a business license, which can be handled by city staff,” Bryant said.
Mayor Jonathan Elmore said he brought up the topic of short term rentals at the meeting to give the city manager a chance to clarify what’s in the zoning code because “I think it’s confusing to a lot of people” he said.
He also asked the board if they would like to consider allowing short term rentals in accessory dwelling units that have kitchens. If the city commission wishes to relax the rules related to short term rentals, they would have to amend the zoning code. Although, the board has not currently made plans to amend the code.
Some concerns were raised about allowing short term rentals in ADUs with kitchens. Commissioner Lisa Shortell said she is going to approach the topic very cautiously.
“We have to think about what’s right for our city,” she said. “I’m sure that staff approached this thinking how can we best control this in a way, without totally limiting it completely.”
She was hesitant to allow these short term rentals and then have the neighbors complain about parties or noise.
“I think we are setting up a situation where we’re asking residents to have to constantly report on their neighbors, and people didn’t move into our residential area to have short term rental issues next door to them. People moved into our residential area to be in a generally peaceful [area and] to know their neighbors.”
“I am not willing to change this yet. I think we should give it some time,” she added.
Separate kitchen facilities in the ADU could lead to a larger group of people coming in, hanging out and partying, and generating more garbage, Shortell said.
The city’s spokesperson told Decaturish that parties isn’t something the city struggles with.
“Over the years, the city has received calls from residents who have had noise complaints from homes that have been rented out,” the spokesperson said.
Commissioner Dee Merriam was pleased with what city staff and the consultants came up with related to ADUs within the zoning code rewrite, but was concerned about the impact of short-term rentals “where you have different people, different cars on your street,” she said.
“I know on my street, we know each other, we know what cars are going to be on the street, and we watch each other,” Merriam said. “When you start having a lot of people on a regular basis that are there for one or two days, you kind of lose that cohesion. But we do allow that for bed and breakfasts.”
The impact is not the same in Avondale as in other cities that struggle with Airbnbs and party houses, Mayor Pro Tem Brian Fisher said.
Resident Ryan Wiles operates about 16 Airbnbs across different states and cities. He said the concerns of the commissioners were reasonable to some extent.
“I have places in St. Augustine, Florida and Jacksonville Beach. I’ve maybe, I think in 10 years, had two instances where I’ve had to stop parties,” Wiles said. “Those areas lend themselves to a far greater extent for parties than Avondale Estates. No one’s coming here to party.”
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated the number of violation notices that were sent out. The story has been updated with the correct information.
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