Atlanta’s short-term rental registration enforcement delayed again amid rewrite pressure, lawsuit threat
By John Ruch
The City of Atlanta has again delayed enforcement of its new short-term rentals licensing requirement — this time until Sept. 6 — partly due to pressure from an industry group that has threatened a lawsuit.
The licensing ordinance took effect March 1, with a month-long grace period before a $500 fine for code violations would be enforced. The City soon delayed enforcement until June 1, then this week announced the much longer extension. In both cases, City officials attributed the delays vaguely to public feedback. The Department of City Planning, which operates the licensing system, would not comment this week beyond a press release that cited a decision that “implementation… may require further consideration.”
Kathie McClure, the Vice President of Atlanta Metro Short Term Rental Alliance (AMSTRA), a group of short-term rental owners and operators that advocated on behalf of their interests from the inception of the legislation all the way through its review process last year, said its pressure had a lot to do with both delays. A Sherwood Forest resident who operates short-term rentals in a Piedmont Heights duplex, she said her group likes certain parts of the ordinance but is in negotiations with the City on significant changes.
“I want to be clear — we want to build a relationship with the City,” said McClure in a phone interview. “We believe short-term rentals are going to be around for a long time. We believe we serve the city in a positive way and we want to work cooperatively with them.”
She added, though, that AMSTRA has complained about the “unnecessarily burdensome” licensing application and threatened legal action over the lack of grandfathering for existing multi-property operators.
“We approached the City with our concerns in this regard and we advised them that we intended to file suit if something didn’t change,” said McClure, who is an attorney, about the lack of a grandfathering provision.
AMSTRA believes that violates the Supreme Court of Georgia’s 2019 decision in the case Morgan County v. May, which also involved grandfathering of a short-term rental property under zoning that was held to be vague. McClure said AMSTRA has hired the attorney who represented the plaintiff in that case. The group’s position is that there should be a category for “legacy” owners of multiple short-term properties.
The licensing requirement was approved by the council last year in the wake of controversies surrounding the effect of short-term rentals on quality of life issues and the housing market. Made famous by such companies as Airbnb, short-term rentals are defined as those lasting 30 consecutive days or less.
The City allows an owner or long-term tenant to obtain a short-term license for up to two separate properties, one of which must be their primary residence. The license is good for 12 months and has a $150 annual fee. The license comes with various requirements and restrictions, including an occupancy cap and payment of the hotel-motel tax.
McClure acknowledges that the ordinance would have the effect of barring multi-property investors from the market. But she says it also makes no reference to the affordability effects of short-term rentals on the housing supply and referred to research that is skeptical of such an effect. She said that “affordable housing is a separate issue.”
AMSTRA is also concerned with an application process that includes two different affidavits, among other complexities. “The average person approaching this whole application is just totally overwhelmed,” McClure said, adding that the City’s outreach program had been inadequate. She said Janide Sidifall, City Planning’s interim commissioner, in a meeting earlier this year expressed concern that the low number of applications indicated confusion with the process.
AMSTRA does support one aspect of the legislation — a “three strikes” policy of revoking the license on properties with repeated code violations. The license-holder would have to wait 12 months before applying again. “We are totally against party houses,” McClure said. “We believe that our members and all short-term rental owners should require their guests to behave as if they live in that neighborhood.”
Airbnb is known to lobby state and local governments but did not respond to a comment request about the new Atlanta delay. McClure said AMSTRA is not funded by such companies, though it does get some money from businesses that support the industry, such as the noise-monitoring technology Noise Aware.
While AMSTRA advocated for the delay and partial rewrite, McClure said, the recent decision came from the City itself. “That was their move, and it was a very smart move,” McClure said, “because I am hopeful that that reflects the understanding that they need to get it right and address the concerns and improve the process.”
Meanwhile, owners and operators can still register on the City’s website.