A controversial proposal to license and register short-term home rentals will go before the Atlanta City Council March 15 for a possible vote that one councilmember says will spark “fireworks.”

Short-term rentals through such platforms as Airbnb are both loved and loathed in Atlanta. A convenience and money-maker for many, they also have been the source of many nuisance complaints for parties and noise. Atlanta is a latecomer to the legalize-and-license game, with various proposals stalling back in 2019, when the administration sought to let homeowners capitalize on the city hosting the Super Bowl.

The proposed ordinance, whose lead sponsor is Councilmember Andre Dickens, would allow the licensing of short-term rentals by an “agent” who could be the owner or long-term tenant of a home, or another person or organization designated by them. The agent could license the property that is their “primary address” and up to two others. The license would be renewed annually and would come with a $150 fee. 

The Atlanta Police Department would record any code violations at short-term rental properties. If an agent had three violations for any one property, the city would bar short-term licensing for that property for 12 months. 

The ordinance defines “short-term” as a rental for up to 30 consecutive days. The short-term rentals would be subject to the state’s 8% hotel/motel tax.

Buckhead-area Councilmembers J.P. Matzigkeit and Howard Shook, both of whom have waged battles against local operators of short-term rentals at mansions used for parties, say they are opposed to the current draft of the ordinance.

Outraged last year by a mansion near his home that hosted such events as “the biggest topless pool party ever,” and frustrated by the stalled-out licensing scheme, Shook introduced his own ordinance that would completely ban short-term rentals in areas zoned for single-family residences. His proposal remains in committee. 

Shook said in an interview that he understands some colleagues think his proposal is “too strict,” but he believes Dickens’ proposal is “too permissive.” He said he has researched licensing policies of six other large cities in the Southeast, and the Atlanta proposal “has none of the protections the other cities have.”

Matzigkeit said in an interview he believes the proposal will spark “fireworks” in the council’s discussion and is not ready to be passed without changes. He said one of his “major concerns” is allowing one agent to run three properties.

“I think we need to really look at that,” Matzigkeit said. “I would like to have it pared back to just primary residences.” 

Matzigkeit said he is also concerned about any kind of commercial use of residential properties, such as party houses, which the city has said are illegal under the zoning code. 

“Our residential zoning means that,” said Matzigkeit. “I don’t believe you should buy a residence and operate it as a business, a short-term rental.”

Some Neighborhood Planning Units also have expressed concern about how short-term rentals may pair up with a proposal in the city’s new “Atlanta City Design Housing” plan, which calls for expanding accessory dwelling units in existing single-family homes.

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