Possible new rules for short-term rentals were discussed at the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners' meeting on Thursday, June 17.
A second public hearing was held for the short-term rental ordinance at the regular meeting before commissioners decided to bring the ordinance back to the work session on Tuesday, June 22 where board members can “hash out” any concerns.
County staff took into consideration the comments made by the board and public during the last public hearing and presented the ordinance with some revisions.
As presented by Molly Esswein, representing County Attorney Ken Jarrard’s office, the ordinance requires that a third party must inspect each home for safety and health standards, such as checking septic tanks and smoke detectors.
Esswein also said that the issuances of citations and magistrate court appearances would trigger certain punishments for property owners like warnings, suspensions or revocations of licenses.
“[This ordinance] very similarly mirrors what we do for [alcohol licenses] but it provides for a little bit more oversight than simple land-use regulations do in the UDC,” Esswein said.
Jamie Mertz, president of 400 North Association of Realtors, took issue with multiple regulations in the proposed ordinance, including administrative fees, record-keeping and code requirements.
Mertz said that it was “unnecessary” for a property owner to be required to pay $50 to notify county staff of a change in local contact person.
“This process should be as simple and easy as possible for the property owners to comply,” Mertz said.
Frankie Elliot, one of the meeting’s speakers, agreed that having to pay an administrative fee was “inherently unfair” and that the added cost of a conditional-use permit, renewal fee, license fee and administrative fee was too much.
Mertz also took issue with the record-keeping that the county was proposing. According to the proposed ordinance, the county would require information and records of each homeowner and tenant for up to three years.
Lee McGuire, a Realtor, said that the record-keeping requirement was “way over the top.”
“That seems a little strange to me — for somebody that’s been in a house for maybe a weekend,” McGuire said. “I just think it’s an overreach.”
Mertz said that the county did not need to know the information of the homeowner, the tenant or the tenant’s vehicle, and that such a requirement “violates… privacy.”
Regarding code inspections, Mertz said that they “should not be required for short-term rentals” because keeping buildings in line with the International Residential Code was not required for other properties and lodging establishments.
During the discussion, commissioners addressed the public’s concerns and aired grievances with the proposed ordinance.
“Personally, I think we’ve vetted this [ordinance] the best we can and continuing to beat this thing — we need to get it out there, get it in place, see how it works,” District 5 Commissioner Laura Semanson said. “And we always have the ability to come back and modify it if it doesn’t work.”
Chairwoman Cindy Jones Mills agreed that there were some “egregious” points worth addressing, such as the public’s concern about fees.
Amy Konrath, business license manager for Forsyth County, said that the administrative change of switching a local contact person “does take staff time” and that every document issued has to be “crafted and certified.”
“It’s a little bit more intuitive,” Konrath said. “To track all of this and enter this in … a lot of our other ordinances do have similar fee structures such as alcohol, pawnshops [and] non-traditional tobacco.”
District 1 Commissioner Molly Cooper said that she believed short-term rentals should be treated the same as businesses in the county.
“I’ve seen this all along as being a business, not as a residence,” Cooper said. “Because you’re renting out a product [and] your product is the structure, and it is a business.”
District 3 Commissioner Todd Levent spoke to Mertz’s concern about keeping houses in line with current codes and requiring homeowners to make structural modifications to the property. Levent said he was more concerned about safety inspections and making sure that renters were up to code with carbon monoxide monitors, smoke detectors and operable windows.
“It’s all about safety to me,” Levent said.
Commissioners voted to put the item on this week’s work session agenda as well as bring it back for another public hearing. The public hearing will be decided at a later date.