After two failed votes and a brief impasse, Athens-Clarke County commissioners passed an ordinance regulating short-term rentals at a meeting on Tuesday night.
While commissioners seemed generally supportive of an ordinance to regulate short term rentals, like AirBNBs and VRBOs, they differed over a provision that would require non-compliant properties to shut down within two years.
David Ellison, an attorney representing some short-term rental owners told commissioners that the sunset clause would likely lead to litigation.
“If y’all pass this tonight, you put property owners on the clock to take legal action,” he told commissioners. “And the citizens, my clients who are here, asked me to be here tonight, don’t want to go against the city. They will, but they don’t want to. They don’t want the county’s resources being used defending this.”
Concerns about possible litigation prompted District 5 Commissioner Dexter Fisher to propose that commissioners send the proposal back to the county’s planning commission for potential adjustments. That would postpone a vote on the ordinance by at least three months.
District 7 Commissioner John Culpepper also expressed concern about the legal ramifications of the sunset clause.
“Our attorneys have advised us against adding the sunset clause into this. And like Dexter said, as stewards of our taxpayer money, I don’t think it’s responsible. I think it’s irresponsible for us to expose ourselves to unnecessary liability and expenses trying to defend this,” Culpepper said.
The ordinance splits short-term rentals into two types: Owner-occupied and commercial. Owner-occupied rentals would be allowed in much of the county, while commercial rentals – usually properties intended solely for short-term rental purposes, would be banned from neighborhoods zoned for single-family residential use.
District 10 Commissioner Mike Hamby, however, encouraged his colleagues to move ahead.
If we as a body made our decisions based on the number of times people get up and say they’re going to sue us, we wouldn’t make any decision.
Commissioner Mike Hamby
“If we as a body made our decisions based on the number of times people get up and say they’re going to sue us, we wouldn’t make any decision,” Hamby said. “We wouldn’t have a Firefly, we wouldn’t have a greenway, we wouldn’t have some of the development that we’ve rezoned. We might not have sidewalks because we get sued a lot over people tripping on sidewalks.”
A substitute motion by District 8 Commissioner Carol Myers to move ahead with the ordinance as written did not get enough votes to pass, and Fisher’s motion to send the ordinance back to the Planning Commission also failed. That left commissioners at an impasse going into a break, after which commissioners reconvened and Myers introduced a fresh motion to pass the regulations.
Girtz agreed to send the ordinance, if passed, to the commission’s Government Operations Committee, giving that group of commissioners two months to suggest changes to the ordinance.
With no debate, Myers’ motion passed the commission 9-0.