The Glynn County Commission unanimously voted Thursday to impose regulations on short-term rentals outside the Brunswick city limits.
The ordinance will go into effect on Jan. 1.
County officials estimate the Golden Isles may play host to as many as 1,000 short-term rental units that don’t pay the 5 percent local bed tax on nightly room rentals, much less state and sales taxes. In addition, the county claims they are often rented out for large gatherings and to people who either aren’t aware of or flaunt local noise, parking, trash and public safety regulations.
The ordinance would outlaw short-term rentals unless the owner or manager has an accommodation excise tax, or bed tax, certificate displayed in the rental unit.
Bed tax certificates with an identification number would be issued annually by the county finance department for a fee of $150. The department would also keep a record of local contacts if the certificate holder is not a county resident. All property-specific advertisements would have to include the certificate number.
All rentals would be required to meet relevant building and safety standards and all zoning regulations. Rental owners would need to set parking limits and give directions for off-site parking if necessary.
County ordinance violations carry fines up to $1,000 and 60 days in jail.
Efforts to impose restrictions on short-term rentals date back to 2010, said County Attorney Aaron Mumford.
“What is different this go-round is we have had really good community efforts to work with us ... It has been a collaborative effort,” Murphy said.
Commissioner Peter Murphy, the ordinance’s chief advocate, said Mumford is the one who wrote the ordinances and did most of the heavy lifting in terms of research.
“This is one of his finest hours. This man has put so many hours into this,” Mumford said.
Community groups worked with the county on earlier drafts, he said, and the public gave plenty of feedback as well.
If any parts of the ordinance don’t “work right,” Commission Chairman Mike Browning said they could be “adapted to the times and circumstances.”
Commissioner Bob Coleman brought up Villa de Suenos, a notorious East Beach rental home that was shut down in 2016 via court order.
“It made the county looking a little dumbfounded because we did not have an ordinance that controlled the situation we were facing,” Coleman said.
While commissioners met virtually, a public hearing was held via written comments and a teleconference set up in the Harold Pate Building in downtown Brunswick.
Patrick Anderson, a short-term rental owner who has served on the Golden Isles Association of Realtors’ Government Affairs Committee, said the ordinance was an illegal breach of private property rights, “over-extension of government power” and “heavy-handed and onerous.”
The ordinance unfairly targets short-term rental owners, a “class of ownership,” when a study of the complaints suggests fewer than 10 percent cause problems.
“Why punish the many for the sins of the few?” Anderson asked.
Stephen Moreno, another member of the association’s government affairs committee, said it was a waste of taxpayer money.
Several more spoke against the proposed regulations, claiming it would violate property rights and state law.
Bed tax certificates are well and good, but spokespeople for the Golden Isles Association of Realtors and Short-Term Rental Owners Association of Georgia have in the past questioned the legality of conditioning a bed tax certificate on the owner providing individual details about their properties.
A similar local ordinance passed in 2005 by the Marietta City Council was found to violate a 2003 state law banning registries of residential rentals. Southeastern Legal Foundation general counsel Kim Hermann wrote to the commission last month that her legal analysis suggests Glynn County’s proposed regulations would not pass muster either.
St. Simons Island resident Stan Kyker said the county will be far from the first or last local government to regulate short-term rentals. Rental owners were given a chance to self-regulate and did not do so, he said.
“Those opposing the ordinance say it violates their property rights,” Kyker said “I say my property rights have been violated by their invasion of my neighborhood.”
Allison Van der Veer, president of the Golden Isles Association of Realtors, said the association supported the ordinance.
“We do have serious concerns about the property-level registration,” Van der Veer said. “However, we believe the rest of the ordinance is a good step in the right direction and we are ready to move ahead with it at this time.”
Local Realtor Missy Neu, one of the members of a task force assembled to find a compromise between the two sides of the issue, also supports the new regulations.
Scott McQuade, president and CEO of the Golden Isles Convention and Visitors Bureau, speaking on behalf of the bureau and its short-term rental committee, said the ordinance fulfills the county’s shared vision for enhancing quality of life in the community.
In other business, commissioners voted to put all new employees on a pension plan closer to a 401k retirement plan than a traditional government pension to reduce the county liability.
Under the old model, called a defined benefit plan, retirement benefits are determined when an employee is hired and paid out monthly after he or she retires. In the new pension system, called a defined contribution plan, the county will contribute the equivalent 3 percent of an employee’s salary annually into a retirement account. An employee can pay into the account as well, which the county will match up to an additional 3 percent of the employee’s annual pay.
Those in the county’s employ before Thursday’s vote who are not fully vested can retain their defined benefit plan.