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Sean Keenan

Activists: State must clarify restrictions on short-term rentals amid coronavirus crisis

Sean Keenan
Georgia lawmakers consolidated existing agriculture sales tax exemptions into the GATE program in 2012. File/credit: Maggie Lee

By Sean Keenan

On April 9, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp issued an executive order suspending short-term rental stays to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus, a move that some activists worried could be detrimental for the many who find themselves in precarious living situations during the global pandemic — especially if the language of the order isn’t clarified.

On April 14, in the wake of Easter Sunday storms that forced some Georgians from their homes, the Short Term Rental Association of Georgia (STROAGA) penned a letter to Kemp’s office, appealing for amendments to the order that could lift — or at least make clear — some of the restrictions against the temporary lodging option. 

“While the metro Atlanta area has more than 14,000 short-term rental properties, they cannot legally be rented due to the fact that all rentals have been mistakenly identified as ‘vacation rentals,’” the letter says, referring to the executive order. 

Not so, said Candice Broce, a spokeswoman for Kemp. She told SaportaReport in an email that a STROAGA representative “had not read [the order] properly,” and that the language provides exemptions for the cases the organization is concerned about.

Specifically, the order’s language says that so-called “vacation rentals … shall include any transaction for the lease or license to use residential property for residential or vacation purposes; that is facilitated by a third party or broker, where the lease or license term does not exceed 30 days; where such lessor or licensor is a corporation, limited liability corporation, partnership, person, or any other entity; and where the lessee or licensee is a private person.”

Not exactly layman’s terms. And unclear enough, STROAGA executive director Pam O’Dell said, to keep some people who rent out their properties from doing so.

“If you took this order to three different sheriffs to interpret it, they would give you three different answers,” O’Dell told SaportaReport in a recent interview.

Asked whether using an online service such as Airbnb would violate the order, Broce said, “Yes, if it meets the rest of the definition of ‘vacation rental’ and does not constitute someone’s primary place of residence, fall within ‘commercial transaction,’ or fall within other provisions of the order.”

While the recent inclement weather seems to be the impetus for this push to revise the governor’s mandate, the effort to keep people in a “home environment” during the pandemic carries weight, too, O’Dell said in the letter.

In some cases, first responders, such as healthcare workers, aren’t able to go home to their families, due to potential exposure to COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. 

For many people, hotel accommodations can be unsafe, unaffordable, not practical and in some situations, not even possible,” she said. “For example … the nurse who tested positive and needs to isolate from her family.”

In the letter, STROAGA proposed amendments to the governor’s order, such as clarifying the definition of “commercial transactions” and providing specific exemptions for “persons who are in isolation or quarantine due to COVID-19 and persons who are displaced from housing by the need to avoid contact with members of their household who are in isolation or quarantine due to COVID-19.”

The order is set to expire on April 30, although it’s unclear whether it will be extended, especially considering Kemp recently announced that some Georgia businesses that shuttered during the pandemic would begin opening back up on Friday.

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