City Council will decide between competing ordinances

In June of 2019, Rob Myers and his family returned home from visiting his parents in Virginia to find a .45-caliber bullet on the floor of his 3-year-old daughter’s bedroom.

Myers spotted the hole where the bullet had entered his Home Park house, and where the projectile bounced off the wall about four feet above his child’s bed.

Police reports and video footage from cameras located around his home connected the mangled piece of lead to a shootout involving a nearby short-term rental property advertised on AirBnb’s website as a place to host parties.

“It was a life changing event,” Myers said. “When we hear fireworks, it’s like, ‘Is it gunshots or fireworks,' and you grab your kids.”

Incidences like that have set the stage for an intense debate about curtailing an industry so lucrative that some Atlanta developers have built homes for the sole purpose of short-term-rental use.

The pending question: How stringently will the Atlanta City Council regulate the budding industry?

“I think its wildly improper to rely on the short-term industry to regulate themselves,” said City Councilman Howard Shook.

Shook drafted legislation that would ban them in all single-family residential neighborhoods.

State ethics filings show that Airbnb has retained with one of the most high-profile lobbyists in the state — Tharon Johnson, who is also an advisor to Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms. Airbnb is not the only short-term rental platform but one the largest. Others include HomeAway, VRBO and Vacasa.

Councilmen Andre Dickens and Matt Westmoreland have drafted a competing, less onerous ordinance with input from Airbnb, property owners and residents critical of the short-term rental industry.

It would require short-term rental owners to apply for certificates, obtain a business license if they own more than three such properties and pay an 8-percent tax.

“I think banning them outright is too aggressive, partly because millions of people visit Atlanta each year,” Westmoreland said.

Dennis Tidwell builds homes in Home Park solely for short-term rentals for groups and families.  The neighborhood is debating how to regulate these rentals while Tidwell puts in extra parking, sound monitors which alerts him when guests get too loud and other measure to lessen community concerns Wednesday, Nov 11, 2020.  Tidwell has built seven homes in the Home Park community and is working on adding two more.  (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
Dennis Tidwell builds homes in Home Park solely for short-term rentals for groups and families. The neighborhood is debating how to regulate these rentals while Tidwell puts in extra parking, sound monitors which alerts him when guests get too loud and other measure to lessen community concerns Wednesday, Nov 11, 2020. Tidwell has built seven homes in the Home Park community and is working on adding two more. (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Jenni Girtman

Credit: Jenni Girtman

The debate over short rentals has evolved into one about property rights, potential legal battles, affordable housing, and the resentment of some residents who feel corporations are invading their neighborhoods with properties that become a detriment to the community.

“They are not vested in the community, so they just don’t care,” said Kathy Boehmer, president of the Home Park Community Improvement Association. “There is a proliferation ... that is driving up rents and negatively impacting affordable housing, while also having significant negative impact on our quality of life.”

In an email, an Airbnb spokesperson said the company serves as a tool for economic empowerment and a lifeline for some during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“During the pandemic, Atlanta hosts have earned more than $30 million,” the spokesperson said. “The typical Atlanta host has earned more than $4,100.”

Home Park becomes battle ground

According to the website Airdna.co, Atlanta has roughly 7,000 short-term rentals. An Airbnb spokesperson said she did not have figures for how many Airbnb listings the company had in the city.

But Home Park has emerged as a chief battle ground over the issue of short-rentals in Atlanta.

The neighborhood, just north of Georgia Tech and on the west side of the Downtown Connector, contains some of the city’s more affordable property.

Boehmer estimated nearly 10 percent of the neighborhood’s housing stock was comprised of short-term rentals.

Dennis Tidwell, founding owner of Rockethouse Design+Build, has for two years built houses in Home Park for the sole purpose of renting them out on a short-term basis. The neighborhood sits within a 3-mile radius of all the city’s main attractions.

The first he built for a friend grossed $20,000 in its first month on the market, he said: “I saw how well it did and it made me want to do them everywhere."

Tidwell has since built four more short-term rental homes in the neighborhood and has plans for four more. He also manages short-term rental properties.

He said only a small percentage of the neighborhood opposes his efforts and most long-term rentals are dilapidated properties rented to college students.

Dennis Tidwell builds home in Home Park solely for short-term rentals for groups and families.  The neighborhood is debating how to regulate these rentals while Tidwell puts in extra parking, sound monitors here on the outside porch which alerts him when guests get too loud and other measure to lessen community concerns Wednesday, Nov 11, 2020.  Tidwell has built seven homes in the Home Park community and is working on adding two more.  (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
Dennis Tidwell builds home in Home Park solely for short-term rentals for groups and families. The neighborhood is debating how to regulate these rentals while Tidwell puts in extra parking, sound monitors here on the outside porch which alerts him when guests get too loud and other measure to lessen community concerns Wednesday, Nov 11, 2020. Tidwell has built seven homes in the Home Park community and is working on adding two more. (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Jenni Girtman

Credit: Jenni Girtman

According to point2homses.com, about 35 percent of the neighborhood homes are owner occupied.

“I sell this city to all of our guests,” he said. “I love this city. I love Home Park. I share the best spots and help guests discover Atlanta like a local.”

Tidwell said he’s reached out to residents to find common ground, but his overtures have been rejected. He also said his properties include noise management systems that notify him when sound-levels exceed 75 decibels over 10 minutes.

But Boehmer said the short-term rental industry began to flourish at a time when young families were settling there and bring stability to the neighborhood. Now Boehmer said she sees that slipping away.

“We have had people move out of the neighborhood because they live next to one of them,” Boehmer said.

Report: short-term rentals drive up rent

Some studies have found short-term rentals reduce affordable housing, especially in urban areas because they take homes for long-term residents off the market.

A 2018 report from McGill University’s School of Urban Planning found that Airbnb had increased the median long-term rent in New York City by 1.4% over the previous three years, resulting in a $380 rent increase for the median tenant looking for an apartment.

“In some Manhattan neighborhoods the increase is more than $700,” the report said.

An Airbnb spokesperson said the data in the study was flawed and noted that it was funded by the Hotel Trades Council. It was also cosponsored by a number of New York City community, housing and tenant advocacy organizations.

Dennis Tidwell builds homes, like this one, in Home Park solely for short-term rentals for groups and families.  The neighborhood is debating how to regulate these rentals while Tidwell puts in extra parking, sound monitors which alerts him when guests get too loud and other measure to lessen community concerns Wednesday, Nov 11, 2020.  Tidwell has built seven homes in the Home Park community and is working on adding two more.  (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
Dennis Tidwell builds homes, like this one, in Home Park solely for short-term rentals for groups and families. The neighborhood is debating how to regulate these rentals while Tidwell puts in extra parking, sound monitors which alerts him when guests get too loud and other measure to lessen community concerns Wednesday, Nov 11, 2020. Tidwell has built seven homes in the Home Park community and is working on adding two more. (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Jenni Girtman

Credit: Jenni Girtman

Since the company’s founding in 2008, Airbnb has filed 11 lawsuits against local and state governments attempting to regulate them. Bloomberg has reported. A few of the more prominent suits involve cities' demands that short-term rentals share data so officials can determine how many exist in their communities.

A company spokesperson said the majority of those suits have been settled.

“Litigation is always our last resort,” an Airbnb spokesperson wrote in an email. "We were forced to challenge laws we believed were in violation of federal, state or local statutes, and did so only after attempting to collaborate with those municipalities outside of a courtroom.”

A 2018 PowerPoint from Atlanta Ombudswoman Stephanie Ramage argued that the city should follow San Francisco’s model, which was the result of federal court settlement.

It mandates that homeowners live at their short-term rentals for 275 days out of the year, subjects them to a 14 percent tax on rentals, and requires data sharing so the city can spot potential violations.

Additionally, the settlement makes it virtually impossible for a property owner to advertise on a short-term rental platform without a permit for the property.

Airdna.co figures show that San Francisco — a city with nearly 400,000 more people than Atlanta has 2,700 fewer short-term rentals.

Shook acknowledged that his proposed ban was just a starting point in the negotiations.

“I’m sticking up for my constituents,” he said.

Westmoreland also predicted his and Dickens' proposal would likely become more restrictive to reach a compromise, possibly limiting the number of properties that an individual can rent out on a short-term basis to two in addition to their primary residence.

Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms has not taken a position, telling The Atlanta Journal-Constitution that she wants to wait and see what proposal the council puts forward.

The city has already indirectly taken one step in regulating short-term rentals by prohibiting large house parties, such as the one associated with the bullet that wound up Myers' daughters floor.

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