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Short-term rental ordinance supporters, opponents voice opinions

Coming into Thursday’s Forsyth County Board of Commissioners meeting, it seemed the county was near a new ordinance for short-term rentals through services such as Airbnb and VRBO. 

After arguments on both sides in a public hearing and discussion lasting more than an hour, county commissioners felt one more sit-down with both sides might help smooth some issues.

“There’s a lot of new faces here tonight. We thought we were getting to a place where most people were starting to agree, and it seems like more and more are showing more and more differences,” said Commission Chairman Todd Levent. “I know this is [District 5 Commissioner Laura] Semanson’s district, but I want to recommend one more meeting sitting in a big room with a big round table.”

Levent said the ordinance was close but that “nobody’s going to be completely happy” with the result. 

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. Since 2016, commissioners have discussed how to deal with such rentals.

At previous meetings, neighbors have brought their issues to commissioners, with occasional comments from those who own the short-term rentals. On Thursday, both sides were in full force. 

For those arguing in favor of short-term rentals, many said a few bad actors were giving all renters a bad name and said the ordinance would impact them financially and pointed to other newer similar service websites that have become commonplace in the community.

“You’re listening to emotional, isolated incidents that do not affect the overall short-term rental industry in our county,” said Bob Eskew, who said he owns two short-term rental properties. “If there was an Uber driver that got a DUI, would you shut Uber down in this county? If there was an Amazon delivery person … who accidentally hit a pedestrian, would you ban Amazon in this county?”

Those wanting to see the ordinance have raised concerns with residential areas being used for commercial purposes, houses being used only for the rentals instead of a permanent residence, safety and noisy and messy renters. 

“People say, ‘It’s their property, they should have the right to do what they want with it,’” said Steve Paul. “I agree that they should, but not at the expense of my privacy and my rights. One offsets the other. My point is if I want to open a bed and breakfast in this same neighborhood, I’m out of luck. There’s already a law on the books that says no bread and breakfast in a residential neighborhood.”

County Attorney Ken Jarrard said commissioners would have the task of balancing the rights of property owners and their neighbors.

“That’s why this has been so challenging to the board of commissioners,” Jarrard said, “because you all are attempting to sort of balance on a knife’s edge of the rights of individuals to exploit and make use … of their property versus the rights of neighbors to enjoy the quiet and peaceful enjoyment of their property, and that is hard.”

Some of the changes in the ordinance were limiting rentals to 20 weeks in a year with rentals allowed no more than twice a month, requiring a minimum of seven days and not allowing renters to reimburse for fewer nights stayed.

Other changes mean the rentals will require the owner to have a business license, a local contact person and different standards for houses on sewer than those on septic systems and limiting the number of cars that can be parked at a home.