A St. Simons Island resident is taking her grievances with vacation rentals to court, claiming short-term rentals to large groups are violating Glynn County’s zoning ordinance.
Catherine Kyker, who lives in the King City neighborhood near the Pier Village, filed a complaint for a writ of mandamus in Glynn County Superior Court. A writ of mandamus is a legal ruling requiring a government entity to fulfill a duty if a court finds it was not doing so.
In the complaint, Savannah lawyer R. Bates Lovett makes the claim that short-term vacation rentals are not allowed in residential areas zoned R6.
Lovett cited section 302 of the zoning ordinance, which reads “The term dwelling shall not be deemed to include a hotel, motel, rooming house, hospital or other accommodations used for more or less transient (purposes).”
According to the filing, the definition of dwelling precludes short-term rentals from being a permitted use in residential areas.
The county’s stated goal for residential zoning districts is to “encourage the formation and continuance of a stable health environment for one-family dwellings,” and to “discourage any encroachment by commercial, industrial, high density residential,” or any other development that adversely affects single-family homes.
In the suit, Kyker’s lawyer writes many property owners are renting out their houses to “unusual” numbers of people, which leads to more people than is customary entering and exiting properties on a weekly basis, increasing traffic. He also writes “abnormal and illegal” numbers of vehicles are parked at the residences. The legal limit for vehicles parked in front of single-family homes in Glynn County is four, Lovett noted.
Many residences are also used primarily as short-term rentals and not as homes, he wrote, which makes the use as a residence subordinate to the use as a rental, as many are rented on a weekly and nightly basis.
Such intense use of a single-family home is not customary or incidental, and is therefore not allowed according to the zoning ordinance, Lovett wrote.
Kyker has requested county officials enforce ordinances as she interprets them before.
A rental in the King City neighborhood, which is listed as being able to accommodate as many as 18 people, abuts Kyker’s property. She said it’s not unusual for parties in the pool behind the house to be loud and disruptive, to the point that she’s had to call the police.
County Attorney Aaron Mumford laid out the county’s reasoning for not doing so at the time in a return letter acquired by The News.
Mumford wrote that short-term rentals are an accessory and customary use for a single-family residence under the current zoning ordinance. Unless the person renting it is breaking another ordinance, like the noise ordinance, there is nothing the county can do.
Vacation rentals and complaints about them are not a new to St. Simons Island. Both county commissioners and residents of neighborhoods like East Beach have lodged complaints in the past. Some have even gone to court.
Glynn County Superior Court Judge Stephen Kelley restricted the owners of Villa de Suenos, a house in the East Beach neighborhood, from using it for large-scale weddings, of which many residents complained. In his final order, Kelley wrote of short-term rentals: “Given our coastal community’s understandable reliance on that business for income, the county will not be apt to restrict it.”
Patty Deveau, who rents out a second home in the King City neighborhood, said in an interview this week that she vets everyone she hosts. St. Simons Island is a special place, and there are people who may be looking for a short-term rental who do not have that in mind, she added.
“It’s because we want people to enjoy our historic home, and protect our historic home, and enjoy the neighborhood, and by any chance if someone who doesn’t fit slips through, we ask them to leave. I’ve told my neighbors that, and I tell my renters I told my neighbors that,” Deveau said. “I think property owners need to be good neighbors. If you have a property you’re renting, you need to be a good neighborhood.”
Kris Maichle, Hodnett Cooper’s general manager of vacation rentals, said the company does not have a specific policy for dealing with complaints from neighbors of its rental properties, but it does respond to complaints. A staff member is on hand all the time to handle those matters, he said. While it is not a common occurrence, the company has removed renters from vacation rentals based on complaints from neighbors, he said.
Renting out a home while on vacation is one thing, but using a house primarily as a rental is not an accessory use, but a dominant one, King City resident Jim Renner said.
While the county may be hesitant to regulate short-term rental use, Glynn County Commissioner Peter Murphy has expressed interest in amending the county’s ordinances to require owners of the rentals to pay bed taxes on their use, as hotels do. Deveau said she has always paid taxes on her rentals, but Murphy said property owners not collecting taxes on rent is common among Airbnb hosts.