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Decatur considering new regulations on short term rentals like Airbnb, Vrbo


Decatur considering new regulations on short term rentals like Airbnb, Vrbo

During a work session on Jan. 17, 2023, the Decatur City Commission discussed putting regulations on short term rentals. Photo by Zoe Seiler.

Decatur, GA — The Decatur City Commission, during a work session on Jan. 17, discussed putting regulations in place for short-term rentals in the city.

Short-term rentals, like Airbnb and Vrbo, are allowed in Decatur, but there are currently no regulations from the city.

“First of all, the definition of a short-term rental is an accommodation for transient guests, where in exchange for compensation of any type or amount, a residential dwelling unit is provided for lodging for a period of time not to exceed 30 consecutive days,” City Planner Kristin Allin said. 

Allin later told Decaturish that the city isn’t looking to target any specific person or company.

“In the past few years, community members have asked the city to create an ‘oversight’ policy for STRs,” she said. “The policy discussed at the work session is the first draft of Decatur’s policy recommendations.”

The city will hold two roundtable discussions for short term rental owners and interested community members later this year.

“The city, based on input, would like to find the best way to gather data and to respond in a way that ‘prevents bad actors,’ for example, a standard set of measures to comply with, ensure life safety zoning measures are met, and ensure that the community has a comfort level in how the city might respond to excessive complaints regarding an STR,” Allin said.

The draft amendments to the unified development ordinance include allowing short-term rentals as a limited use in all zoning districts, expect institutional, in the city. The maximum occupancy of a short-term rental would be two adults per bedroom.

The policy came out of feedback from the community and recommendations from the planning commission. 

“From feedback from the community, the short term rental pros that we gathered regarding the positive aspects of short-term rentals, include flexibility for life situations,” City Planner Kristin Allin said. “Some other positives cited by the community are income generation for a property owner that is both flexible and managed by third party, owner property rights, and it helps increase tourism and offset tourism spikes.”

Some of the negative aspects of short terms rentals include a fear of “bad actors” renting a home for a party, removing potential long-term rentals from the market, and disturbances to neighbors such as noise, trash not being properly store, overflow parking and an excessive number of guests, Allin said. 

One goal of the policy for the city staff is to learn more about short-term rentals in the city and use a third-party company to gather data. The third party would help identify how many short-term rentals are in the city, how often they are booked, the number and types of complaints the city could receive, and if the rental is a room, home or an accessory dwelling unit. 

“The second phase after gathering data on what we have and what type of complaints might come in would be helping with compliance,” Allin said. 

The third party would also run a 24-hour call-in hotline for residents to be able to keep track of complaints and refer any serious calls to the police department. 

“It’s more so for the community to have a 24-hour place that they know they can call in and have their complaints logged. In the rental unit, there would be contact for the actual owner or agent, then there would be the emergency contact and the 24-hour hotline,” Allin said.

The second goal is to create a certificate system for oversight. 

“We would have a list of requirements for short term rental owners,” Allin said. “There would be an initial life-safety inspection by the Decatur fire marshal and then an annual self inspection that would need to be uploaded onto the website.”

Like a lodging house, neighbors would be notified by a sign placed in the yard of the short-term rental for 15 days. Residents would be able to submit comments to the zoning administrator for consideration. The short-term rental certificate would have to be posted on the site. 

A short term rental owner would be required to have a certificate to operate the rental. They would apply once and then the certificate would be renewed every year. 

The draft application requires proof of insurance that the short-term rental is operating as an STR, that an agent or responsible person would need to be assigned, and the owner would be responsible for fees and the city’s hotel/motel tax. 

Information about the city’s noise ordinance hours, address, occupancy, parking locations, emergency contact, floor plan/fire extinguishers, and waste disposal instructions would also have to be posted in the unit. 

The initial would be conducted by the city’s fire marshal and could include making sure there’s a visible address on the property, there’s access to and from the unit, and a fire escape plan is posted. The fire marshal would also verify the occupancy per unit, make sure the rental has fire extinguishers and working smoke alarms, and ensure that the electrical system and appliances are working safely. 

The city would also have a system for violations and would be able to mail letters to alert owners of renewals or violations. The city is also working to create a process for revoking or suspending a short term rental certificate if the property receives excessive violations.

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