Ordinance gives County employees ability to enter homes, collect occupation taxes

County commissioner approves short-term rental regulations

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Bartow County Commissioner Steve Taylor approved an ordinance amendment earlier this week establishing new regulations for short-term rentals of privately-owned homes.

“As a lot of communities have done with the growth of Airbnb and Vrbo rentals and stuff, it’s an ordinance to regulate — require, really — registration of folks who want to do short-term rentals so we can be aware of what’s going on,” said Bartow County Administrator Peter Olson. “Sometimes, these properties can create problems for the neighborhoods, so we wanted to require folks to come in and notify us when they’re doing that.”

According to the ordinance language, the new requirements are designed to allow property owners to “generate income, while not unduly burdening adjacent properties, endangering life safety or violating applicable laws."

Under the new ordinance, it is now unlawful for any homeowner within the unincorporated portions of Bartow County to not just rent or operate short-term rentals, but also advertise such properties without acquiring a permit.

Those looking to rent out their properties via online services like AirBnB and HomeToGo must now file an application with the Bartow County Community Development Department. Permits to operate short-term rental properties must be renewed on an annual basis. 

The fee for initial permit applications is $100, with annual renewal fees set at $50. 

Applicants must also present “evidence that the property meets the parking requirements of this ordinance” via a plat, aerial photo or “other similar evidence.”

Per the ordinance, rental properties must have off-street parking “sufficient for one car for each bedroom rent,” with the community development department director or a designee given discretion to reduce the requirement up to 50%, “with justification.”

A separate permit is required for each property an applicant intends to use as a short-term rental; under the ordinance, apartments are automatically ineligible for such permits.

Nor will the County issue permits to property owners who are not current on property taxes, “if there is a history of complaints regarding the property or the owner or operator of the facility,” or if “the director finds it is not in the interests of the public health, safety or welfare” to approve a permit for such a property.

The ordinance limits the number of overnight occupants in such properties to two persons per bedroom, plus two additional persons per residence, up to a maximum of 15 people.

“The director shall have discretion to increase this limit to no more than 24 with justification,” the ordinance language reads. “Additional non-overnight guests are permitted up to the same amount as the occupancy limit. For example, a three-bedroom home could have up to eight overnight occupants and eight additional guests. Children 3 and under do not count against these numbers.”

Furthermore, the ordinance requires renters to post a “clearly visible and legible notice” adjacent to the home’s front door, listing — among other details — the homeowner’s name, telephone number and a copy of the permit with its individual permit numbers displayed.

The ordinance also requires those who advertise short-term rentals “on the internet or other media” to list the County permit number in said advertisement. 

Olson said the County is looking to hire an outside company to scan online postings for compliance with the new ordinance stipulations.

“They will monitor the internet for listings, and if they find somebody they’ll contact them and say ‘Hey, you need to register,’” he said. 

Furthermore, the ordinance grants the community development director or a designee the ability to conduct investigations of properties “whenever there is reason to believe that an owner and/or local contact person has failed to comply” with the article provisions.

According to the ordinance language, those investigations may include “an inspection of the premises, review of law enforcement/security reports, online searches, citations or neighbor documentation consisting of photos, sound recordings and video.”

The ordinance also gives numerous County employees — among them agents of the Bartow County Sheriff’s Office, Bartow County Fire Department, Bartow County Community Development Department and the local board of health —  the authority to inspect properties and enforce provisions of the ordinance under “probable cause.”

“Personnel identified above are authorized to enter the structure or premises, including individual rooms, at reasonable times to inspect or perform the duties imposed by this article,” the ordinance language reads. 

If a property owner refuses entry into the residence, the ordinance states that “County employees shall have recourse to all methods of entry allowed by law.”

Additionally, the ordinance requires operators of short-term rental properties to pay “the required occupation tax” as well as “collect and remit lodging excise taxes.” 

Under the ordinance, the penalty for first-time violations is a fine not to exceed $150. The penalty for a second offense is a fine not to exceed $300 and a permit suspension of 30-90 days.

A third violation would result in fines up to $600 and the revocation of the short-term rental property permit for 12 months. 

“In addition to the penalties described above, any person violating the provisions of this article by operating a short-term rental without a valid short-term rental permit may be prosecuted,” the ordinance reads.

Under Bartow County Code, such violations could be punishable with fines up to $1,000 and/or imprisonment up to 180 days. 

“Each day any violation of this code or of any resolution or ordinance shall continue shall constitute a separate offense,” section 1.19 of the County’s general provisions reads.

The ordinance does not apply to hotels, motels or other “non-short term rental arrangements,” including boarding houses, lodging houses or individuals providing long-term rentals — in excess of 30 days — of their homes. 

The short-term rental regulations officially took effect Wednesday.