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FORSYTH COUNTY, Ga. — Two months after banning short-term rentals in residential areas, Forsyth County commissioners are exploring ways to enforce the rules.

They think they’ve found one tool that will help, and it has left them a little spellbound.

At a June 25 commission work session, Chief Information Officer Brandon Kenney presented commissioners with an array of data on the current status of the short-term rental market in Forsyth County. The material was compiled by contracting firm Host Compliance.

Up till now, the county has relied on a mix of public records, official complaints and a host of other assorted accounts to track short-term rentals.

Using a proprietary method of gathering data, including expansive web listings, Kenney said Host Compliance has taken much of the guesswork out of the equation. 

The company’s data shows Forsyth County has some 197 short term rental units in operation, eight of them added last month. 

Of all the listings, 75 percent have been identified with a street address. 

“That’s extremely important because what this means is the company, through all of their means, has identified [and] verified the information used in multiple sources,” Kenney said.

The software includes a map of the county with individual points representing a short-term rental unit. 

Click on the point, and an information box appears with details of location and ownership. It also includes a timeline of activity, including advertisements on certain sites and whether the property is active. It provides pricing information, minimum stay, maximum sleeping capacity, bedrooms, number of bathrooms and the number of reviews. It breaks down whether the rental consists of the entire home or a part of a home, like a studio over a garage.

Ninety-seven percent of all the listings are between one and seven nights. Only 1 percent are greater than 30 nights.

The data shows there are 257 listings on multiple sites for short-term rentals for the 197 individual units.  

“We have the ability to pull all this information back into our systems,” Kenney said. “Our goal here is to start to integrate our data so we can start to make good decisions.” 

Before they launched into discussion over the data, County Attorney Ken Jarrard reminded commissioners that the county is facing two legal battles over the new ordinance filed on behalf of the rental operators.

Commissioners opened the forum suggesting how the data might be used, including whether the properties have homestead exemptions.

“We can’t get involved in their personal arrangements, but I would imagine that some of these properties are homesteaded, then they may have some questions to answer for their insurers and their mortgage companies,” Commission Chairman Laura Semanson said.

All commissioners seemed generally in favor that those properties in violation of the new ordinance should be notified in writing with an explanation that enforcement is set to begin Jan. 1, 2020.

But there was some disagreement over what would happen next.

Commissioner Todd Levent said sending out 197 letters will almost certainly lead to a flood of possibly 197 phone calls to staff in the Community Development Department. He said he wonders whether staff is equipped to handle that and how they are to respond to residents who oppose the ordinance.

“When staff gets into this, they’ll be able to manage their workload,” Semanson said. “If they can’t, they’ll come to us.”

Levent asked if it was acceptable for staff to direct angry callers to contact their commissioner, “because it’s going to happen,” he said.

No one objected to that approach.

The two-year battle over regulating short-term rentals ended April 18 when the commission voted 3-2 to change its Unified Development Code banning the operations in residentially zoned areas throughout the county. The code does provide for operations lying within areas zoned for agriculture or agriculture-residential, lots generally much larger than those in residential areas. Still, even these operations must go through a zoning process to receive a conditional use permit.

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