Sandy Springs tightens grip on Airbnbs with more rules, expenses

Sandy Springs Cty Council recently approved several new regulations on operators of short-term rentals.



Sandy Springs Cty Council recently approved several new regulations on operators of short-term rentals.

The cost to operate an Airbnb or VRBO is going up in Sandy Springs.

At a meeting Tuesday evening, the city council voted unanimously to alter the city’s code to add more regulations on short-term rentals. The additional rules take effect May 1.

The updated rules require property owners who operate an Airbnb or short-term rental — leased for less than 30 days — out of their home to be registered as a short-term rental unit and have their property inspected for compliance with building and fire codes. Owners must also pay a business license fee and the hotel-motel tax.

The regulations say that short-term rental operators in Sandy Springs must post the city’s noise ordinance in a visible location in the home. The owner will also be required to notify all other property owners and residents within 500 feet of their home about the rental space, and provide contact information in the event of an issue or problem.

Additionally, no short-term rental can be operated in subsidized housing.

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The 500-feet rule irks Casey Evans the most.

Evans, 33, has been operating an Airbnb out of the basement of his Sandy Springs home since October 2015. Because of the new regulations, he says he’ll have to alert “a few dozen” neighbors of his Airbnb and a nearby car dealership.

“I have been doing Airbnb for over two years now, with literally zero negative feedback from my guests or my neighbors,” Evans said. “But now I have to bring attention to myself and potentially raise unnecessary attention to the fact I am an Airbnb host to neighbors who quite frankly shouldn't even care about this.”

Evans said he has already addressed his displeasure with his city representative, newly-elected District 4 councilwoman, Jody Reichel. He said he may not continue operating an Airbnb in the city come May 1.

Specific language related to short-term rental regulations wasn’t found in the city codes for Roswell, Johns Creek and Milton. Alpharetta doesn’t have any codes that address short-term rentals, and city leaders are not working on any “at this time,” said James Drinkard, the assistant city administrator.

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Airbnb and VRBO have grown in popularity recently because they can often be cheaper than hotels and offer features that hotels don’t.

According to Airbnb data cited by the city, nearly 7,000 Georgia residents used the service in 2017 to make extra income. There were 211 Airbnb units in Sandy Springs last year.

For Sandy Springs, real discussion on regulating short-term rentals began on Jan. 2 when assistant city manager Jim Tolbert gave a presentation on the impacts that they can have on the city.

“The short-term rental market is exploding,” Sandy Springs Mayor Rusty Paul said in a statement. “While we want to be supportive of the industry, we have an obligation to protect the residential character of our neighborhoods, as well as ensure that we implement fair and equitable application of business practices, including administration of hotel and motel taxes, which apply to this type of rental.”

Sandy Springs’ annual revenue is expected to increase by $40,000 to $50,000 because of the hotel-motel tax applied to the rental units, said city spokeswoman Sharon Kraun.

Sandy Springs has adopted regulations for property owners who offer residences for short-term rentals on such internet platforms as Airbnb. 

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To enforce the new regulations, Tolbert recommended using Host Compliance, a San Francisco-based company that would cost the city about $20,000 per year to keep track of all the short-term rentals in Sandy Springs and make sure property owners follow city codes. The city is still working on a contract with the company, Kraun said.

Virginia Beach, Virginia; Fort Lauderdale, Florida; Asheville, North Carolina; and Pasadena, California also use the company to regulate short-term rentals.

Host Compliance is one of several start-up companies — like BNB Shield and SubletAlert — that help cities and property owners enforce short-term rental regulations. In a 2016 story, CNN called these companies "the Airbnb Police."

If hired by Sandy Springs, the company can handle a variety of enforcement duties for the city. It will pull all the information it can on local short-term listings, send notices to hosts about the city’s new laws and collect fees. If Host Compliance finds a violation, it alerts the city. The company also has a hotline for neighbors of short-term rentals who may have complaints.

"The world is better for short-term rentals if they behave correctly," Host Compliance founder Ulrik Binzer told CNN. "If this industry is to be sustainable in the long run, we have to accept that it's here to stay so we get ourselves out of thinking we can regulate it into oblivion.”

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Some of the regulations the council is implementing are similar to what the city passed last year in development code changed through the "Next 10 " land use plan, which was adopted in August 2017. Some of the regulations put in place then included requiring short-term rental operators to have a business license and to provide on-site parking.

Evans had already registered himself as business owner and thought those regulations were enough. He was surprised when the city took further action.

“To me, the city is just doing everything in it's power to make Airbnbs as difficult as possible to effectively run in Sandy Springs,” he said.

“I do it because I love being able to stay like a local when I travel, and want to give other people the same option when in Sandy Springs,” Evans said. “But if Sandy Springs wants to push over burdensome regulations onto Airbnb hosts like me that effectively force our decision to close up shop, then I may just end up doing that.”

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