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Commission Temporarily Bans New Short-Term Rentals

The Athens-Clarke County Commission passed an emergency moratorium Tuesday on new short-term rentals in single-family neighborhoods, citing a housing crisis and increasing complaints about noise, traffic and parking.

The seven-week pause on allowing new short-term rentals, or STRs—vacation houses that are rented out for less than 30 days at a time on websites like Airbnb and VRBO—will give county officials a chance to craft regulations regarding zoning, parking, maximum occupancy and public safety.

The moratorium does not apply to STRs in multifamily neighborhoods or to houses that have operated as STRs in the past 12 months. 

More than a dozen residents urged the commission to approve the moratorium. Marilyn Vickers told commissioners that up to 18 people at a time stay at a house in her Glenwood neighborhood, where the out-of-town owner cut down all the trees and built a pool and a pool house. She compared it to living next to a hotel. “That is what they are—hotels, businesses in a residential neighborhood with no owner available as part of the community,” Vickers said.

Others described seeing naked people walking in full view, parties that prevent their children from going to sleep and drunken visitors setting fires, as well as the unsettling experience of having a new set of neighbors every few days. Clint Moore described them as “micro-annoyances… that change with every party, and they never stop.”

In addition, STRs bought as investments are driving up the cost of housing and taking housing off the market that would otherwise be bought by families that intend to live there. Jason Thrasher said houses near his in Five Points that sold for $400,000 a few years ago were bought recently by a Texas company for $1.15 million. “If this keeps happening, how can anybody afford to buy a house here?” he said.

As of last fall—when the county commission sent a set of proposed regulations to the planning commission for vetting—there were 938 registered STRs in Athens. Under state and local laws STRs are required to register with the county and pay the 7% local hotel-motel tax. But many are operating without the proper permits and are in violation of quality-of-life ordinances, according to the resolution the commission passed on Tuesday.

“It was my understanding that that ordinance was going to come before this body within a few months,” Commissioner Melissa Link said, “but that was [almost] a year ago. So this is long, long overdue.” 

The vote on the moratorium was 9–0, with Commissioner Allison Wright, who owns an STR, recusing herself.