About a dozen residents of the McDonald Mill Subdivision showed up at last week’s Lumpkin County Board of Commissioners meeting to express their dissatisfaction with the owner of two neighborhood homes being used as short term rentals. They were also unhappy with the way Lumpkin County regulations are written and enforced.
“This is a problem of Lumpkin County’s making,” said Mary Thompson, president of the subdivision’s Home Owners Association. “… the county chose not to respect the established covenants of our neighborhood in [its] efforts to grab fees and hotel taxes … The county has taken the position that if covenants do not specify ‘short term rentals,’ then they are allowed.”
The HOA argues that since the owners, Jason and Mikyla Carson incorporated as Carson Cabins LLC and registered with the Georgia Secretary of State as a business, they are a commercial enterprise, which is against their covenants.
“The state of Georgia considers them a business and the IRS considers LLCs a business for tax purposes,” Thompson said. “Your Short Term Rental ordinance refers to ‘innkeepers’ offering ‘lodging,’ which is obviously a commercial endeavor. … Cai Roman, clerk at the US Court of Appeals in Atlanta, published in the Emory Law Journal … ‘Short term rentals are a monetary transaction and fit within the definition of commercial activity per Black’s Law Dictionary.”
The Carsons approached an attorney for an opinion about restrictive covenants, and that attorney has a very different view. The information the Carsons received is that, generally speaking, covenants come down in favor of the property owner, who has the right to use it for any lawful purpose.
“An AirB&B is not a commercial business,” Jason said. “I am 100 percent sure I am in complete compliance. I talk to Lumpkin County often, and they told me it is a civil matter.”
And if it comes down to a law suit, he said, he intends to stand up for his rights. “I hope it doesn’t come to that, but ….”
NOT A ‘SLAM-DUNK’
McDonald Mill Subdivision is located in Jeff Moran’s district. And the county commissioner acknowledged that Thompson’s argument may be valid.
“I thought it was a slam dunk, but after looking into it and reading our ordinance, that’s not the case,” he said. “It turns out one of the uses specifically allowed in residential areas is short term rentals. Commercial is defined as primarily in the sale of goods, provision of services like entertainment or veterinarian, or hotels and motels. What needs to happen is that HOAs need to update their covenants if they don’t want short term rentals.They need to specifically state no short term rentals.”
Moran added that the county attorney is looking into whether, if subdivisions decide to change their covenants, existing short term rentals would or would not be grandfathered in.
The McDonald Mill group also requested the county change its short term rental application to require the applicant to provide a copy of any restrictions; add a quiet time; require a trash service; establish a complaint hot line; pass a noise ordinance; suspend the Carsons’ host license for twice violating the parking regulations per the ordinance; and implement a three month moratorium on short term rental applications in order to review and modify the application.
‘NUISANCE’ IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD
Some of these requests were a direct result of what the group sees as “a nuisance,” Thompson told the board.
“These two rentals [are] at the far end of the street and the extra traffic affects every homeowner on Tate Creek Trail,” she said. “Some of our neighbors have had near misses with cars speeding to and from these rentals. There have been problems with trespassing. People have been seen in our field playing frisbee and walking dogs. One Airbnb renter went onto the neighboring property and filled up the neighbor’s trash can with their trash.”
Items have reportedly disappeared from area homes after renters have left.
“We are a Neighborhood Watch community and we try to be acutely aware of people in the neighborhood and with these two rentals, it’s a revolving door of strangers in and out,” Thompson said.
And then there’s the noise and the parking.
The Planning Department received a complaint about a wedding held in early September at a barn at one of the homes. Cars were “parked on both sides of the street and three deep in the cul-de-sac and there was no way an emergency vehicle could have gotten into the cul-de-sac,” the email stated.
Planning Director Bruce Georgia investigated the complaint and found it was not a wedding event.
“The Carsons had a 50th wedding anniversary for their parents. The short term rental ordinance does not apply to owner events,” he said.
Georgia said his office made sure the Carsons understood that wedding venues are not allowed as part of the short term rental license. They fall under a different land use category.
The barn, which had previously been advertised as a venue for weddings and parties, was removed from their website by the Carsons.
A second email complaint about parking was received by the Planning Department on Oct. 12, with photos attached. Georgia said he contacted the Carsons and they have resolved the issue.
“I added parking and noise restrictions to our house manual,” said Mikyla. “Jason has a full time job. I’m the one who runs our rental cabins. I drive up at least three times a week.”
The house manual has information on house rules, how to use appliances and what is and is not available for the renters’ enjoyment. One of the issues included in the manual is that visitors are to stay off trails and other people’s property.
“I took a picture of the bridge across the creek and a trail to show the view from the back of our property. But in the manual we made it very clear people are not to venture onto the trails or other properties,” she said.
Also in the manual is a listing of things to do and see in Lumpkin County—wineries, downtown, trails, etc.
“I love Dahlonega. I plan to retire there some day,” Jason said. “I’m here to be a good neighbor. I’d be happy to speak to any of my neighbors.”
“We love it—everything about Dahlonega. We just wanted to give people a place to go that’s beautiful and help with our income. This is my job and I can honestly say I love it,” Mikyla said. “We want to find out what our neighbors’ concerns are and make changes. We want our relationships to be good with everybody. Right now it seems like everybody’s just talking and not talking to us.”
The Carsons may get that chance. Thompson said she plans to call the couple sometime this week to let them know about an upcoming HOA meeting.
She also plans to continue dialogue with the county.
“It’s kind of frustrating living in a neighborhood when a popup motel can open at any time. We plan to shore up our covenants and be a little more specific,” Thompson said. “My objection with the county is that there’s no public input, no hearing, no nothing. It would be nice if we had a heads up. I plan to come up with some ideas.”