A special House committee tasked with examining the short term rental market dominated by companies such as Airbnb, VRBO, and Homeaway met Tuesday morning, but failed to reach any conclusions about possible regulation, or even a solid conclusion what should be defined as a short term rental that would be subject to regulation. The committee heard from several invited witnesses, including representatives from Airbnb, the Georgia Hotel and Lodging Association, and the city of Savannah’s Department of Tourism Management.
The first challenge the committee faced was determining the types of rentals that should be regulated. Examples of short term rentals run the gamut from people in Augusta who rent their houses out for ten days in April for the Masters Tournament, or homeowners in Athens who rent their houses six weekends a year during football season, to traditional Beds and Breakfasts, to non owner-occupied houses that are rented year-round through agencies like Arbnb. While most of the witnesses agreed that a level playing field is needed where everyone follows the same rules, there was some question as to whether the the regulation for someone who rents their home a few weekends a year during football season should be the same as the regulation for someone who makes a living running a bed and breakfast, or someone who make a living renting properties full time through providers like Airbnb.
One concern brought up by several witnesses dealt more with the individuals renting these homes, and the effect rentals have on the neighborhood in which they are located. Committee members heard about a home that was sized to hold four people, yet would have ten or more people during one rental. In Savannah, the Tourism Management department has received complaints ranging from public drunkenness to inappropriate language to urinating in public. Jim Renner, a homeowner from St. Simons Island, made the trip to Atlanta to talk about the destruction of the character of his neighborhood due to one home being the scene for a constant stream of rentals. In his opinion, rentals for wedding parties were worse than the damage caused by rentals the weekend of the annual Georgia Florida game in Jacksonville.
There was a question as to whether regulations of short term rentals should be managed at the state level or the local level. While the city of Savannah developed regulations for short term rentals, the process required fifteen drafts and local customization because of the city’s historic districts that would make its regulations too customized to use elsewhere. John Barbour of the Georgia Association of Realtors pointed out that localities had differing regulations and requirements for things like food and alcohol service that would make statewide regulation difficult. And, he argued, if the state were to produce regulations, who would monitor the properties to ensure compliance with them?
The committee meeting ended with many unanswered questions and no consensus about how it should proceed in its next meeting, which is yet to be scheduled.