The Lumpkin County Board of Commissioner may have found a fix for complaints about short term rentals that aren’t in compliance with the county’s ordinance. And that fix could come from a third party company that has been referred to as “the Airbnb police.”
Host Compliance LLC is a technology firm out of Seattle, that focuses exclusively on addressing short term rental (STR) related challenges for local governments.
The firm offers registration, compliance monitoring, tax collection, audits and enforcement through integrated software.
“Staff determined that contracting for [these] modules will also relieve the Finance Department and Planning Department personnel of over 400 hours spent annually on administering the licensing and payment processing. It is also anticipated that the compliance monitoring and rental activity monitoring contract will result in an increase in tax collections,” said Planning Director Bruce Georgia in the staff analysis given to commissioners at last week’s BOC Work Session.
“We looked at two companies and I spoke with surrounding counties. I think what we’ve recommended is a good option for us.”
The cost—a $21,470 annual fee—would be paid for out of STR license fees and a three percent administration fee the county keeps for administering the Hotel/Motel Tax.
Perhaps most importantly, it will handle all complaints and enforcement of the county STR ordinance.
In October of last year about a dozen neighbors from McDonald Mill Subdivision showed up at the BOC meeting to lodge complaints about two STRs in their neighborhood, and the county's choice "not to respect the established covenants [banning commercial uses] of our neighborhood," Home Owners Association (HOA) President Mary Thompson told the board.
It turns out the county's Land Use Code specifically allows STRs in residential areas and they are not considered commercial enterprises. HMOs will have to update their covenants to specifically prohibit STRs.
After learning this, one of the group's requests was for a 24/7 complaint hotline to address issues that come up that effect neighbors—illegal parking, noise, trash and others.
With Host Compliance, “Incidents can be reported by phone or email," at any time, Georgia said.
Reports are fully documented with digital recordings and a written transcript, and neighbors can include photos, video footage and sound recordings to document their complaint.
Each STR has a responsible party. That person has two hours to respond to a complaint.
“All six counties we spoke with say the company has good response time,” Georgia said.
Meanwhile, Thompson skimmed Host Compliance LLC's brochure and likes what she saw.
“Whoever started that company really saw a need that wasn't being filled by other companies or governments,” she said. “I wish I was that creative and innovative."
In addition to the 24/7 hotline, Host Compliance keeps a record of trending issues so the county can address them as they arise.
The compliance monitoring also tracks 50-plus STR websites to keep up with new rentals, capturing the addresses, contacting those who have not obtained a license; registers and collects fees and taxes electronically; and monitors rental activity.
Currently there are 118 active STRs in the county. These add much needed beds to Lumpkin’s tourist industry.
“Staff met with representatives from the Chamber to discuss this proposed contract. The Chamber supports the use of such a service as a means to not only protect our citizens but to preserve this vital piece of tourism in our community,” Georgia’s staff analysis states. “Without these types of rentals, our community does not have enough available beds to support certain events in our community.”
Tourism director Sam McDuffie concurs.
“Short term rentals make a great impact on the wedding industry, and provide people attending other events a place to stay in the county,” he said. “I think the county is taking the right step, monitoring and holding the industry accountable.”
Thompson agrees as well.
“I think the [STR] model of business will become more popular in the years to come, especially with the growth of Atlanta and all of the counties in between Atlanta and Lumpkin, so it’s great that the Commissioners are being proactive with this,” she said. “Lumpkin is such a fantastic place to live, I can definitely see why it’s a tourist destination.”
The contract will likely come up for a vote on the BOC’s Jan. 21 agenda.