Sandy Springs aims to legalize, regulate and tax short-term rental services like Airbnb in its new zoning code.

Dozens of local short-term rentals of houses and apartments are available online on any given day, and they’re all technically illegal, according to Assistant City Manager Jim Tolbert.

“Our code right now does not allow Airbnb,” said Tolbert, because short-term rentals are not mentioned at all, and only specified uses are allowed. “Bottom line, we know there are several hundred of them in the city,” he said.

But instead of a crackdown on such rentals, the city will legalize them in the new “Development Code” expected to be approved this summer.

The exact code language permitting and regulating short-term rentals has yet to be written, but it will be something “to allow them to happen … [with] some guidance, so it doesn’t run amok.”

“We’re not going to address [short-term rentals] until the new code,” Tolbert said, adding that there is no indication such rentals are a quality of life problem. “We haven’t heard any complaints.”

Airbnb became a discussion point after a May 15 presentation of the latest Development Code draft. Some residents were concerned that a lack of Airbnb mention in that draft meant short-term rentals would be banned outright. And Mayor Rusty Paul said that Sandy Springs Hospitality & Tourism, the city’s tourism agency, is concerned about a loss of hotel/motel taxes to such unregulated rentals.

“We haven’t done anything to ban [short-term rentals]” in the new Development Code, Tolbert said.

The new code’s treatment of short-term rentals may include a registration system, he said, and in any case means taxation of people who rent out their property to lodgers.

“If we legitimize it, they will have to pay hotel/motel tax like anybody else,” he said.

Short-term rentals have been controversial, especially in big cities like Atlanta, where they can act as significant competition with hotels while avoiding the same taxes and regulations. Misbehaving guests and absentee owners are another widespread concern, as with a Buckhead mansion that last year attracted a “mansion party” concert.

Tolbert said he saw the effects short-term rentals can have on residential areas during his previous job as development director in Charlottesville, Va., where the University of Georgia boosts such business. However, Tolbert said, the biggest opposition to unregulated rentals typically comes from the hotel industry.

John Ruch

John Ruch is an Atlanta-based journalist. Previously, he was Managing Editor of Reporter Newspapers.