The Forsyth County Board of Commissioners have approved a new measure that will likely guide how short-term rentals are dealt with for the foreseeable future.
In a unanimous vote at a work session held Tuesday, commissioners approved a motion by District 2 Commissioner Dennis Brown to begin the process of modifying the county’s current unified development code (UDC) to require prospective renters to apply for and be granted a conditional use permit to operate as a short-term rental before 2020.
"Throughout the country, we looked at many different versions of how other jurisdictions were handling this,” Brown said after the work session. “And we think what we have is the best solution that balances the rights and needs of homeowners in these residential districts and allows a reasonable amount of short-term rentals in areas that are more appropriate for those.”
Under the modified UDC, Brown said that short-term renters must meet a series of requirements on safety, general aesthetic and proximity to other residences, and will be given a set of parameters of how they can operate the rental.
In recent years, services like Airbnb have become a popular way for people to find residents who want to rent out a room or their house for short-term stays as a more personal and appealing — and often cheaper — choice over a hotel.
Commissioners have held discussions on the rentals dating back to late 2016, when neighbors living near the homes raised issues with trash, noise and traffic.
At the work session, Brown related to the board that the conditional use permit would be denied for any property that is in an “identifiable residential neighborhood with attributes such as a residential common area, amenity area, common subdivision name or any homeowners association.”
This stipulation, he said, will allow them to keep homes being used as businesses out of residential areas where people want “peace and quiet at home.”
"I think it's going to be a good solution because it’s going to regulate those short-term rentals that are being used as a business," Brown said. "And since it is a business we are looking to have it not primarily in residential areas."
Brown said that the next steps in the process are to refine the language of the UDC modification and to identify current short-term renters in the county so that new regulations can be passed along.
Conditional use permits will be available to the public no later than March 1, 2019 and any renter that continues to engage in short-term rentals after those permits become effective on Jan. 1, 2020, could be subject to enforcement actions, Brown said.
Previously commissioners struggled with the idea of enforcing an ordinance on the rental properties, due in part to the data and information needed to pursue renters.
But according to County Attorney Ken Jarrard, after the board heard from several representatives from STR Helper, a company that offers software for compliance tools for short-term rentals, they have decided that a similar program will likely be used to manage rental properties in the county and enforce the UDC if necessary.
"I don’t have to tell you that part of the genesis for this entire discussion about an ordinance was because enforcing short-term rentals, particularly with respect to the information we need to enforce, was challenging,” Jarrard said at the work session. “I believe based upon our reaching out to some private providers that are able to mine and access electronic data better than we have the ability to do in house, we may have more information at our disposal to begin issuing warnings, issuing citations maybe even commencing civil actions.”