ALPHARETTA, Ga. — The Alpharetta City Council is considering its first ordinance that would regulate short-term rentals in the city.
City Attorney Molly Esswein presented the item for discussion Sept. 18 at a work session. Esswein drafted the proposed amendments, which she said were based on Forsyth County code. With Lake Lanier rentals drawing crowds, Forsyth County has taken the lead on the issue.
The proposed regulations include revisions to the Alpharetta Unified Development Code to allow short-term rentals if an applicant receives a conditional use permit for a property in an agriculture zoning district.
Of the 304 properties zoned agricultural in Alpharetta, 256 are classified as residential property, and they would qualify to operate a short-term rental moving forward.
“The UDC revision would apply, going forward only, you would have to consider, with the grandfathering issue,” she said. “And that would mean that if someone has been operating as a short-term rental up until this point, we would need to determine how we would want to move forward with them.”
She said property owners who can prove they have been lawfully operating a short-term rental can apply for a permit, even if the operation was not on agricultural property. These homeowners would still require a license.
The city would also revise its Code of Ordinances to require a license and operational requirements for short-term rentals.
The proposal comes after the rise of rental brokers such as Airbnb and Vrbo, popular alternatives to traditional hotels that allow guests to rent a privately owned property.
The UDC updates would define short-term rentals as accommodations that are rented by guests for fewer than 30 days and set conditional use permit requirements based on size, location and occupancy.
Ultimately, the code changes would enable the city to monitor and regulate short-term rental activity by requiring an annual license that would establish qualifications and the ability to revoke the license or impose penalties for violations.
City Finance Director Tom Harris said Airbnb and Vrbo short-term rentals in Alpharetta contribute some $15,000 monthly in hotel-motel excise taxes. If the proposal is later approved, individual short-term rental owners would also be regulated.
Mayor Jim Gilvin said he initiated drafting the proposed changes after hearing frrom Alpharetta residents who expressed concerns about the inability to regulate short-term rentals in their neighborhoods.
“It’s not just that they can’t do it,” Gilvin said. “It’s that it’s easier for a governmental entity to enforce it in a city than it is for each individual neighborhood to try to enforce that. Some of these neighborhoods are large; some are small; some of them have resources; and some of them really do not.”
He said the ordinance and code changes have been three or four years in the making.
Councilmembers were ultimately supportive of the proposal. Mayor Pro Tem Dan Merkel and councilmen Doug DeRito and Donald Mitchell agreed the city should address the growing interest in short-term rentals.
Merkel and DeRito said the regulations could address the issue of property management companies buying homes rather than private citizens.
“Corporate buying houses for rental is a big thing,” Merkel said. “It’s happening now, and I think this is an opportunity for us to get ahead of it.”
DeRito expressed concerns about the city’s ability to enforce the codes.
But Councilman Brian Will said the creation of new regulations could be government oversight to address the issue of a minority of Alpharetta residents.
Will noted a subdivision could adopt its own regulation on short-term rentals, and while Esswein agreed, she emphasized such regulations would not be possible for residents who do not have homeowners associations.
“And so, we as a city are creating an entire new bureaucracy, which is going to require enforcement, to do something that only a few people are asking to be done,” Will said. “And that, in my opinion, is not our job.”
The proposed ordinance and UDC amendments are subject to change pending future discussion by the City Council.
At the regular meeting that followed the work session, Gilvin recognized the Daughters of the American Revolution Patriots of Liberty chapter and proclaimed Sept. 17-23 as Constitution Week.