Metro Atlanta jurisdictions take different approaches to short-term rental regulation

Credit: Natrice Miller /

Credit: Natrice Miller /

After a spike in complaints over short-term rental properties, local governments — from Atlanta to Peachtree Corners, Brookhaven to Snellville — have stepped in to regulate the burgeoning industry.

Now property owners, renters and government officials are learning to navigate a confusing landscape of regulations and enforcement strategies that vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction across metro Atlanta.

City and county governments have taken different approaches, including outright bans of short-term rentals in Dunwoody and Peachtree Corners.

Atlanta has delayed the implementation of its ordinance over a permitting process that has been described as cumbersome and onerous. Henry County is considering a law that would make it illegal to have more than one car per bedroom at any short-term rental property. Cobb County is also currently considering regulations, and it may be the largest jurisdiction in the metro area to do so thus far.

Smyrna Councilman Glenn Pickens said the most common complaints he received were about loud house parties and unkept properties. Complaints prompted the city to pass its ordinance in 2021.

“There would be an accumulation of trash, and cars parked all over the place,” Pickens said.

Short-term rentals are most commonly advertised on sites like Airbnb and VRBO, and are typically rented for 30 days or less. Property owners can rent anything from a spare bedroom to the entire house, for temporary housing or vacation stays.

Some of the most common regulations include requiring a business license, a certificate of occupancy, inspections, limits on the number of guests per room and on the number of days per year a unit can be rented.

After Brookhaven implemented its ordinance in 2018, complaints went down and owners have had no problem complying with the regulations, according to assistant city manager Patrice Ruffin.

“The property owners have been pretty cooperative when we’ve notified them,” she said. “So we haven’t had any major issues recently.”

Brookhaven’s ordinance requires short-term rentals to be owner-occupied so that renters are not left unattended. That not only helps prevent party houses, but it also prevents people from purchasing a property as an investment to use solely as a short-term rental, Ruffin said.

Enforcing regulations

When it comes to enforcing short-term rental ordinances, some officials rely on complaints to identify violations.

Sandy Springs enforces its ordinance through complaints, which has been effective in weeding out repeat code violators, city spokesman Dan Coffer said. Sandy Springs, along with the city of Brookhaven, also began using a third-party vendor for enforcement.

Third-party vendors use software to track advertisements online and send a report of listings, which city officials use to cross-reference locations that have been registered as short-term rentals.

If a rental has not been registered, the city notifies the property owner in writing, and code enforcement addresses any violations, Ruffin said.

“We typically haven’t had any major compliance issues once people are put on notice that they need to register and pay the excise tax,” she added.

The use of third-party vendors is relatively new, and the software allows local governments to target illegal rentals directly.

Keith Teltser, an economics professor at Georgia State University, said his research on short-term rental regulations in Chicago and San Francisco showed that Airbnb’s cooperation is extremely important for enforcement.

In San Francisco, Airbnb required rental hosts to post their city license number in their listings, and listings were removed from the site if they did not include the registration number, he said.

“Overnight, like 40% of listings went away once Airbnb decided to purge those listings,” Teltser said. “It’s perhaps not enough just for the policy to exist because unless you have Airbnb’s cooperation, it’s going to be hard for the city to know whether or not you as an Airbnb host have actually registered or not, or whether you’ve been operating a listing.”

Airbnb has been cooperating with the city of Atlanta on its ordinance and the enforcement process, which the city just delayed again until Dec. 5. Airbnb has taken steps to inform hosts across the city about the regulations and the process they need to undergo to continue to legally operate.

“Our focus right now is to help the city get as much information as possible out to as many hosts as possible,” said Nia Brown, Airbnb’s southeast public policy director. “We’re really grateful to have the opportunity to partner with the city and to be present in the city.”

The city of Atlanta already approved its short-term rental ordinance, but the council said the latest delays came after threats of litigation. The ordinance goes a step further than most by limiting property owners to two eligible short-term rental listings — their primary residence and one additional property.

Credit: Jenn Finch

Credit: Jenn Finch

Rich Munroe and Kathie McClure are the president and vice president of the Atlanta Metro Short Term Rental Alliance, and both are short-term rental owners. While they agree that short-term rentals should be regulated and required to pay taxes and follow city codes, they do not agree with the limit, and they question the ordinance’s legality.

“We are having continued discussions with the mayor’s office, city planning and the legal department,” Munroe said. “We would like to be able to come to some resolution...and we definitely want to try to do what we can to avoid any type of litigation.”

“We want short-term rental owners and hosts to be good neighbors,” McClure said. “We want them to expect their guests to behave as if they live in that neighborhood.”

Short-term rental’s appeal

Short-term rentals can bring economic benefit to small business owners, property owners and local governments. Their rise in popularity created an accessible avenue for individuals to make additional income while also contributing to city and county revenue through hotel and motel taxes.

“The majority of properties are owned or operated by hosts that have one unit or two units,” McClure said. “These people, like me, depend on their income to afford their homes.”

Teltser said sites like Airbnb increased the “option value” of homes by giving homeowners more ways to earn income through their property.

“It basically makes your property more valuable because there’s more that you can do with it,” he said. “Airbnb also brings you this new source of income that you can potentially tap into.”

Teltser found through his research that as the number of short-term rentals in a city goes up, foreclosure rates can be expected to go down, partially because of the opportunity individuals have to make additional income, he said.

McClure and Munroe said most rental owners take good care of their property, properly vet their guests and don’t cause any disruptions.

Credit: Natrice Miller /

Credit: Natrice Miller /

News coverage of party houses contributes to the notion that short-term rentals are “an out-of-control issue,” which McClure said isn’t true.

“A lot of the horror stories that get out are a very few bad apples,” Munroe added.

But some neighbors don’t like having the rentals in their neighborhoods at all. John Nipaver, a resident in a single-family subdivision in Cobb County, said short-term rentals change a neighborhood’s environment.

“I don’t think they first think about what it does to their neighbors. I mean, there’s strangers now in your subdivision,” Nipaver said. “Basically, it’s like a hotel.”

In an effort to address community concerns, Airbnb created a neighbor support portal for anyone to contact the company about disruptions and public safety issues at rentals nearby. The company also recently implemented a parties and events policy limiting gatherings to less than 16 people, restricting hosts from authorizing events and allowing Airbnb to suspend or ban those who violate the rules.

City and county ordinances also give neighbors an avenue to report issues in their area. The Smyrna ordinance, like many others in the metro area, requires short-term rental owners to designate a contact agent that can keep an eye on the property and be reached at any time.

“Now, we can go to the point of contact and address any issues,” Pickens said.

Credit: Natrice Miller /

Credit: Natrice Miller /