Opinions on the new regulations imposed by the local Glynn County government range from one end of the spectrum to the other among rental operators.
“Honestly, I think it’s a good thing,” said Georgia Beach Rentals owner Benji Bennett.
While he has reservations, Bennett said the short-term rental ordinance passed by the Glynn County Commission in mid-October is the result of warranted complaints from full-time county residents about short-term rentals.
“If the management companies and the individuals who are representing the homes are doing what they’re supposed to do, we wouldn’t have any issues,” Bennett said.
When pushing for the short-term rental regulations, primary advocate and county commissioner Peter Murphy cited complaints he claimed to have received from residents about noise, trash not being properly disposed of and excessive numbers of guests parking along residential streets.
The ordinance was also written to address safety concerns in rental properties and to make sure all rentals pay the 5 percent nightly bed tax on lodging accommodations. In past meetings, Murphy has said the goal is not to nickel-and-dime rental owners but to put everyone on an even playing field.
As illustrated by Bennett, “You can rent a house for $200 a night, the guy next door can rent out for $170 a night because he’s not paying taxes.”
In an effort to achieve this, the ordinance outlaws short-term rentals unless the owner or manager has an accommodation excise tax, or bed tax, certificate displayed in the rental unit. The county’s finance department will issue certificates for a fee of $150 proving the owner paid their taxes.
The department would also keep a record of local contacts if the certificate holder is not a county resident. All property-specific advertisements would have to include the certificate number.
Rentals will also need to meet relevant building and safety standards and all zoning regulations. Rental owners would need to set parking limits and give directions for off-site parking if necessary. County ordinance violations carry fines up to $1,000 and 60 days in jail.
While most of these were not objectionable to Bennett, who said he’s already in compliance, he noted that the county has the authority to collect bed taxes already. The county also did not need the ordinance to enforce health and safety requirements. County code enforcement and the Glynn County Police Department could do so before.
He fears the county will use the ordinance to target vacation rental owners and operators via a “vacation rental police.”
“I think it’s unfair,” Bennett said. “If you’ve got someone next door, why can’t you just call the police?”
The rules are reasonable, he said, but seem to draw an unnecessary distinction between residences inhabited full-time and rentals.
“My company is fine because we go by the rules. We pay our taxes,” Bennett said. “As long as you show the people on each side of you respect, there’s no issues.”
Similarly to Bennett, Hodnett Cooper Vacation Rentals General Manager Kris Maichle had little problem with the letter of the ordinance but was concerned about some of the logistics. Hodnett Cooper is one of the largest local rental managers, boasting over 300 properties on its website.
Overall, the ordinance will likely mean a better experience for visitors and tourists across the board, Maichle said, but the local government will need to have clear and open lines of communication with rental owners to make it work.
“The new rules will mostly impact our owners and our team, but I believe the majority of the work will be the initial set up and verification of applying for the certificate, posting the correct documentation inside the unit, posting certificate numbers in advertisements, etc.,” Maichle said. “It will be very important from the county side to have a clear, easy process to apply for the certificate and communicate all of the requirements.”
Rental owner and Coast Cottages manager Paul Anderson found himself firmly in the opposing camp.
“The ordinance is a classic example of government overreach … a heavy-handed solution to some isolated problems,” Anderson said. “It’s a serious breach of private property rights and, according to Georgia law, creates an illegal registration of rental properties. These problems should be addressed by improving our existing ordinances to control noise, trash and parking. Not by restricting property rights.”
Rather than fixing a problem, he believes the ordinance “unfairly punishes the many for the sins of a few.”
“Glynn County should address the behavior of the irresponsible owners and renters rather than restrict everyone’s right to rent,” Anderson said. “There are no fewer than seven pages (of the ordinance) devoted to denials, violations, penalties, suspensions, revocations, investigations, appeals and audits.”
Bennett and Maichle weren’t so sure, but Anderson said the new regulations may end up driving rental prices up for visitors.
“That is a good way to discourage tourism, which drives 50 percent of our local economy,” Anderson added.
Those rental owners upset at the move aren’t the only ones who want to see the ordinance repealed. Southeastern Legal Foundation general counsel Kim Hermann believes the ordinance’s bed tax certificate system amounts to a registry of residential properties, which were outlawed by the state in 2003.
A similar local ordinance passed in 2005 by the Marietta City Council was found to violate a 2003 state law banning registries of residences. Hermann wrote to the commission last month that her legal analysis suggests Glynn County’s proposed regulations would not pass muster either.
“Based on Southeastern Legal Foundation’s 44-year track record of holding governments accountable to the law, we will continue to research various potential claims,” Hermann told The News after the commission’s vote.
The law goes into effect on Jan. 1, giving rental owners two months to come into compliance.