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Lawsuits filed against county over new short-term rental regulations
Lake rental
- Scott Rogers FCN regional staff

A group supporting owners of short-term rentals has filed a lawsuit against Forsyth County after a recent decision by commissioners restricting the area for rentals.

The Short Term Rental Owners Association of Georgia (STROAGA) has filed a suit against the county in state Superior Court saying the new restrictions are unconstitutional.

In April, new rules were approved limiting the rentals to agriculturally-zoned areas, thus prohibiting them from residential areas, and requiring a conditional-use permit, which will be required as of Jan. 1, 2020.

“Forsyth County’s attempt to eliminate the vested rights of property owners will not go unchallenged,” said Pam O’Dell, executive director of STROAGA, in a news release. “This overreach by Forsyth County violates many of the protections provided in both the U.S. and Georgia Constitutions, and we are seeking redress of these abuses through the judicial system.”

In the release, the organization said another suit had been filed “by other plaintiffs involved with Forsyth County vacation rentals” in the Federal District County of North Georgia “demanding injunctive and declaratory relief based on violations” to the constitution due to the ordinance.

“Vacation rental homes offered through services such as Airbnb and VRBO are the only overnight lakefront accommodations for vacationers who want to stay on the Forsyth County side of Lake Lanier,” said Al Webster, Forsyth County chapter chair of STROAGA, in the release. “The recent ban on short-term rentals in Forsyth will mean many tourists will be forced to find other places to spend their vacations. Visitors to the Forsyth County side of Lake Lanier will need to leave by sundown.”

In a text message, County Attorney Ken Jarrard said his office was aware of the suits but could not comment further.

“The county is reviewing the lawsuits and will take appropriate responsive action to protect the county’s interests,” he said. “The county has no other comment at this time.”

Short-term rentals have been a debate in the county for more than two years. Discussions on the topic date back to 2016, when the only current commissioners on the board at that time were District 3’s Todd Levent and District 4’s Cindy Jones Mills, after neighbors living near homes used for short-term rentals raised concerns.

Since then, there have been more than a dozen meetings where the issue has come up, and commissioners have attempted to strike a balance between the property rights of the rentals’ owners and their neighbors.

In recent years, services like Airbnb have become a popular way for people 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.

The change approved by commissioners defines short-term rentals as “accommodations for transient guests, rented for the purpose of overnight lodging for a period less than 30 days.” Bed and breakfasts and boarding houses are not considered short-term rentals.

Additional considerations would be the number of people staying overnight, the number of guests during the day, number of bedrooms, information on parking, lot sizes, the distance for lot lines and sewer capacity.

Only properties zoned agricultural district (A1) or agricultural-residential (Ag-Res) can apply.