Forsyth administration building

FORSYTH COUNTY, Ga. — The Forsyth County Commission continued to hammer out details on a proposal to require owners of short-term rental property to receive a permit from the county before renting their home through popular websites like VRBO and Airbnb.

The permit would be in addition to regulations the county put in place in 2019, specifically that short-term rentals can only be operated on agriculturally zoned properties with a conditional use permit.

At its May 20 meeting, the board fielded several public comments that strongly criticized the county’s 2019 action, spurring most commissioners to state the proposed changes to the ordinance would not backtrack on its prior decision to limit where short-term rentals could operate.

However, commissioner Todd Levent did state the board took a “scorched Earth approach” in limiting rentals to only agriculturally zoned areas. The ordinance was intended to be reasonable and offer protection to the neighbors of rental properties, Levent said, but it did not need to be onerous and have the appearance of the county wanting to shut down short-term rentals completely.  

The May 20 meeting specifically addressed stipulations under the permit requirement proposal. Several commissioners voiced that the talks were a continuation of proposed regulations that were left on the cutting room floor in 2019.

Commissioners had no objections to several proposals, including a $250 annual fee for the permit, but not everyone was on board with all aspects of the draft.

In addition to going before the County Commission to receive the permit, and owner/operator of a short-term rental would be required to designate a local contact person who must be at the property within one hour if there is a violation of any short-term rental regulations.

Levent argued that if there is a potential violation, the complainant could call the county’s e-911 system, which could respond within two hours and could verify the legitimacy of the complaint.

Semanson suggested the language be changed to have a the “responsible person” respond to a call within one hour instead of having to be at the rental property within 60 minutes.

Commission Chairwoman Cindy Jones Mills had issues with potential investigations regarding violations, particularly that there was no rebuttal process outlined for homeowners in a false-report situation.

“False accusation is a legitimate thing,” she said.

Molly Esswein, representing County Attorney Ken Jarrard’s office, said if the issue were to go to court, the burden of proof would lie on the county, and the complaint would need to be verified before moving to that point.

Jarrard said the county’s code enforcement deals more in compliance than prosecution, and those staff members could identify false accusations.  

Some issues were raised by those speaking in favor and against the update during the public comment period.

A representative with the North Georgia Association of Realtors took issue with several aspects of the draft, including a mandate that each guest include the make, model, year and tag number of their car that will be parked at the rental property.

One man who spoke in favor said he would still like to see some changes, including an extended response time from the “responsible party” of a property and repercussions for those making a false complaint against a homeowner/operator or renter.

Other proposed regulations the county has drafted would require a Health Department inspection of the home and septic system to set limitations on the number of people allowed in the home at any one time. That cap would be set at two people per bedroom with a maximum occupancy of 15 persons on septic-serviced properties. Other proposals include parking limitations, noise constraints, posted notice requirements and a mandate that renters sign an agreement stating they understand these stipulations.

The County Commission could take a vote on the proposal during its next regular meeting in June.

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