On the very same day that TripAdvisor releases the list of Top Vacation Rental Cities in which Savannah comes in at #5, I received an interesting letter from a constituent who was fined $500 when the City of Savannah discovered that she had rented out her property in violation of the new Vacation Rental ordinance that went into effect January 1st of this year. In explaining and defending her actions, this resident of a house in the 500 block of East 40th Street raises several issues, including the unfair and arbitrary restriction of property rights on a map that does not clearly define zoning areas and that properties south of Gwinnett are prohibited from renting out rooms.
If the whole idea behind the new ordinance was to crack down on vacation rentals in competition with downtown hotels, the complainant wants to know why the rule applies to neighborhoods outside of the historic district in the first place. Second, she points out that the homeowners that are adversely affected are the ones who could use a break from renting out rooms. Worse, she points out that-- in her case-- there was no due process or appeal: she returned from vacation after having rented out her house for a few days and found a Notice To Correct Zoning Violations taped to her front door for failure to obtain an occupancy permit and given 30 days to come up with $500 or face 30 days in jail.
More and more private homes are being turned into vacation rentals in a town where property owners seek innovative ways to pay off their mortgages. Neighborhoods throughout the city are being impacted by the loss of neighbors who are replaced by tourists and homes turning into party houses. Downtown is taking on the atmosphere of one great big historic theme park and the quality of life has drastically changed in the past five years.
Property values are being adversely affected: a private residence next door to a party house is less desirable than the same house on a quiet residential street. Some constituents complain to me that they can't sell their house downtown for what they paid for it now that the place next door has become the scene of wild parties on weekends. Meanwhile, outside the historic district in places where a few extra bucks comes in handy from renting out a room, homeowners are finding the marshal knocking on the door. What scares the constituent on 40th Street even more is the mystery of how she was discovered in the first place: she is not in the business of renting out her house; she had merely rented out her place for the weekend to her cat sitter rather than pay to board the cat.