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Chatham County, Georgia Short-Term Rental Regulation: A Guide For Airbnb Hosts

Chatham County, Georgia

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Starting a Short-Term Rental Business in Chatham County

To legally launch and operate a short-term rental like an Airbnb or VRBO in unincorporated Chatham County, Georgia, property owners must obtain a Short-Term Rental Certificate from the Chatham County Department of Building Safety & Regulatory Services. The annual application fee is $350, with a $175 late fee for renewals submitted after June 30th each year.

Some key requirements to qualify for a STR certificate in Chatham County include:

  • The property must be located in an area zoned for short-term rentals. STRs are allowed in most residential areas of unincorporated Chatham County.
  • If the property is part of a homeowners association (HOA), the HOA must allow short-term rentals.
  • The owner must provide proof of homeowners insurance indicating the property is used as a short-term rental.
  • The maximum occupancy advertised must match the occupancy stated on the application. Exceeding the maximum occupancy is subject to fines.
  • The owner must agree to use best efforts to ensure the STR does not disrupt the neighborhood or interfere with neighbors' quiet enjoyment of their properties.
  • The owner must collect hotel/motel taxes and either remit them to the county monthly or only rent through booking platforms like Airbnb and VRBO that collect and remit taxes.

Violations of the STR ordinance, such as operating without a certificate, exceeding maximum occupancy, or violating noise ordinances, are subject to fines starting at $100-$150 per occurrence. The certificate may be revoked if the owner accumulates multiple violations.

Within the Savannah city limits, which includes the Downtown Historic District, STRs are more strictly regulated. New STRs are capped at 20% of residential parcels per ward in the historic districts, with a waiting list of 3+ years for new certificates. Existing STRs can be "grandfathered" if continuously licensed.

On Tybee Island, STRs also require a certificate from the city and must meet certain requirements similar to unincorporated Chatham County.

Overall, Chatham County has seen significant growth in short-term rentals, with over 3,300 active rentals as of 2023. While STRs can be a profitable investment, with Savannah scoring 91/100 as a market on AirDNA, the regulations and limited ability to get new licenses in some areas are important factors for owners to understand.

Short-Term Rental Licensing Requirement in Chatham County

To legally operate a short-term rental in unincorporated Chatham County, property owners must obtain a Short-Term Rental Certificate from the Chatham County Department of Building Safety & Regulatory Services (BSRS). The key requirements to qualify for a STR certificate include:

  1. The property must be located in an area zoned for short-term rentals
  2. If part of an HOA, the HOA must allow short-term rentals
  3. Provide proof of homeowners insurance indicating the property is used as a short-term rental
  4. The maximum occupancy advertised must match the occupancy stated on the application
  5. Agree to use best efforts to ensure the STR does not disrupt the neighborhood
  6. Collect hotel/motel taxes and either remit them to the county monthly or only rent through platforms like Airbnb that collect and remit taxes

To apply for a STR certificate, submit the following to the BSRS:

  1. Completed STR Application
  2. Completed Life Safety Compliance Verification Form
  3. Completed Regulation Form
  4. Proof of current homeowner's insurance
  5. Copy of current property tax receipt
  6. Proof of trash pick-up and fire service (invoices)

The annual application fee is $350, due at the time of application. Renewals submitted after June 30th incur a $175 late fee. Processing time is not specified, but the certificate is required before commencing STR operations.

Operating an unlicensed STR for more than one-night results in a citation, an immediate cease and desist order, and a fine of 50% of the license fee. Other violations are subject to fines starting at $100-$150 per occurrence:

  1. Exceeding parking limitations: $100 fine
  2. Violating noise ordinance: $100 fine
  3. Exceeding maximum occupancy: $150 fine

Chatham County Police will forward any reports of violations to BSRS. Nonpayment of hotel/motel taxes incurs additional penalties per county ordinances. The STR certificate may be revoked if the owner accumulates multiple violations.

Required Documents for Chatham County Short-Term Rentals

To apply for a Short-Term Rental Certificate in unincorporated Chatham County, property owners must submit the following documents to the Department of Building Safety & Regulatory Services:

  1. STR Application: The main application form that must be completed in its entirety. It captures key information about the property, owner, and short-term rental operations.
  2. Life Safety Compliance Verification Form: This form verifies that the property meets life safety requirements such as working smoke alarms, carbon monoxide detectors, and fire extinguishers. It must be completed and signed by the property owner.
  3. Regulation Form: Outlines the rules and regulations for operating a short-term rental in Chatham County. The owner must sign this form agreeing to abide by all STR ordinances and requirements.
  4. HOA Affidavit: If the property is part of a homeowners association, this affidavit confirms the HOA allows short-term rentals. It must be completed even if the property is not part of an HOA.
  5. Government-Issued ID: Provide a copy of a valid driver's license, state ID, or passport for identity verification purposes.
  6. Proof of Current Homeowner's Insurance: Submit a copy of the current homeowner's insurance policy declarations page showing the property is covered for use as a short-term rental.
  7. Current Property Tax Receipt: Provide a copy of the most recent property tax receipt as proof of ownership and that property taxes are paid and up-to-date.
  8. Proof of Trash & Fire Service: Submit a copy of a recent invoice or bill showing the property has active trash collection service and fire protection/service.

These documents, along with the $350 annual fee, must be submitted as a complete application package to the Department of Building Safety & Regulatory Services in order to obtain a Short-Term Rental Certificate. The application and forms can be obtained from the department's website or office.

Chatham County Short-Term Rental Taxes

Short-term rental owners in Chatham County are required to collect and remit several types of taxes:

  1. State Sales Tax: Short-term rentals are subject to the 4% Georgia state sales tax on the rental price, including any cleaning fees, for stays of 89 nights or less.
  2. County/Local Sales Tax: Chatham County levies an additional 3% local sales tax on short-term rentals, for a total of 7% in state and local sales taxes.
  3. Hotel-Motel Tax: Effective September 1, 2023, Savannah increased its hotel-motel tax rate from 6% to 8% on stays of 30 nights or less. This tax applies to short-term rentals as well as hotels.
  4. Hotel-Motel Fee: The State of Georgia charges a $5 per night hotel-motel fee on stays of 30 nights or less.

Short-term rental marketplaces like Airbnb and Vrbo collect and remit state and local sales taxes as well as hotel-motel taxes on behalf of hosts in Chatham County. However, if taxes are not being collected by the rental platform, hosts are responsible for registering with tax authorities and filing lodging tax returns, typically on a monthly basis.

Failure to collect and pay required short-term rental taxes can result in fines and penalties. Operating without a short-term rental certificate in unincorporated Chatham County incurs an immediate fine of 50% of the license fee for the first citation.

Potential Tax Deductions

Short-term rental hosts may be able to deduct certain expenses to reduce their taxable rental income. Potential deductions include:

  1. Mortgage interest and property taxes
  2. Maintenance, cleaning, and repair costs
  3. Utilities paid by the host
  4. Insurance for the rental property
  5. Depreciation of the rental property and furnishings
  6. Advertising and platform service fees
  7. Supplies and linens

It's important to keep detailed records and consult with a tax professional to ensure all allowable deductions are claimed properly. With proactive tax planning, short-term rental operators can optimize their tax liability while remaining in compliance with Chatham County regulations.

Georgia Wide Short-Term Rental Rules

While Chatham County and its municipalities have their own specific short-term rental regulations, there are a few state-wide rules in Georgia that apply to all vacation rental hosts:

  1. State Sales Tax: Short-term rentals in Georgia are subject to the 4% state sales tax. This tax applies to the total rental price, including any cleaning fees, for stays of 89 nights or less.
  2. Hotel-Motel Fee: The State of Georgia charges a $5 per night hotel-motel fee on stays of 30 nights or less. This fee is in addition to any local hotel-motel taxes.
  3. Tax Collection: Vacation rental marketplaces like Airbnb and Vrbo collect and remit the state sales tax and hotel-motel fee on behalf of hosts in Georgia. However, if taxes are not being collected by the rental platform, hosts are responsible for registering with the Georgia Department of Revenue and filing lodging tax returns, typically on a monthly basis.
  4. Tax Registration: To pay state taxes directly, short-term rental operators must register with the Georgia Department of Revenue and obtain a sales tax number. Registration can be completed online.
  5. Homestead Exemption: In Georgia, the homestead exemption typically only applies to owner-occupied primary residences. If a property is being used primarily as a short-term rental, it may not be eligible for the homestead property tax exemption.
  6. Insurance: While not legally required, it is highly recommended that Georgia short-term rental operators carry appropriate insurance coverage, either through a vacation rental-specific policy or an endorsement on their homeowners insurance.

Beyond these state-wide rules, the majority of short-term rental regulations in Georgia are determined at the city and county level. Chatham County, Savannah, Tybee Island, and other municipalities have their own zoning restrictions, permitting requirements, and local tax obligations that hosts must comply with. It's important for vacation rental operators to understand both the state and local rules that apply to their specific property.

Does Chatham County Strictly Enforce STR Rules?

Based on discussions from real estate investing forums like Bigger Pockets and Reddit, Chatham County appears to be relatively Airbnb-friendly compared to many other cities, but still enforces its short-term rental regulations. While Chatham County does have rules around licensing, taxes, occupancy limits, and zoning for vacation rentals, the consensus is that the regulations are not as strict as in cities that have only recently started cracking down on STRs.

However, Chatham County is taking steps to improve enforcement of illegal and unlicensed short-term rentals. In 2023, the City of Savannah approved new software called Rentalscape that can scan the internet for unlicensed STR listings, allowing the county to proactively identify rule-breakers rather than just responding to complaints. The software is expected to launch in early 2024 and aid the county's regulation efforts.

Despite the rules, many hosts still operate STRs in Chatham County, especially in the popular tourist areas of Savannah, Tybee Island, and unincorporated beach towns. Savannah, in particular, is seen as a very profitable market for vacation rentals, scoring 91/100 as a short-term rental investment, according to AirDNA. The city has over 3,300 active short-term rentals.

While the county's enforcement may tighten with the new software, the overall sentiment is that Chatham County remains more Airbnb-friendly than many other cities that have placed heavier restrictions on STRs. Hosts can operate profitably in the county as long as they obtain the proper license, follow the occupancy and tax rules, and be proactive neighbors. However, with Savannah placing caps on new permits in certain historic areas, the STR market may become more competitive for hosts to enter.

How to Start a Short-Term Rental Business in Chatham County

Starting a short-term rental business in Chatham County requires careful planning and compliance with local regulations. Follow these steps to successfully launch your STR:

  • Determine if your property is eligible for a short-term rental certificate: Check the zoning of your property to ensure short-term rentals are allowed. In unincorporated Chatham County, STRs are permitted in most residential areas. If your property is part of an HOA, verify that the HOA allows short-term rentals. Properties within Savannah city limits, especially in the historic districts, have additional restrictions and caps on new STR licenses.
  • Prepare your property for rental: Ensure your property is safe, clean, and well-furnished for guests. Install smoke alarms, carbon monoxide detectors, and fire extinguishers as required. Provide essential amenities like linens, towels, kitchenware, and Wi-Fi. Consider hiring a professional photographer to take high-quality photos for your listing.
  • Obtain necessary insurance and permits: Contact your insurance provider to obtain appropriate coverage for a short-term rental property. You will need to provide proof of insurance with your STR application. Obtain any necessary permits for renovations or signage.
  • Register with tax authorities: Register with the Georgia Department of Revenue and the Chatham County Finance Department to obtain a sales tax number and hotel/motel tax certificate. You will need to collect and remit state sales tax (4%), local sales tax (3%), hotel/motel tax (6-8%), and a $5 per night state hotel/motel fee.
  • Submit your Short-Term Rental Certificate application: Gather all required documents, including the STR application, life safety verification form, regulation form, proof of insurance, property tax receipt, and proof of trash and fire service. Submit your application package along with the $350 annual fee to the Chatham County Department of Building Safety & Regulatory Services. Processing time is not specified but plan for at least 2-4 weeks.
  • Create your online listing: Once your STR certificate is approved, create a listing on popular vacation rental platforms like Airbnb and Vrbo. Write a compelling description, upload high-quality photos, and set competitive rates. Be sure to include your STR certificate number and maximum occupancy in the listing.
  • Establish your rental policies and procedures: Create a rental agreement outlining your policies on payments, cancellations, check-in/check-out, house rules, and guest behavior. Consider using a dynamic pricing tool to automatically adjust rates based on demand. Decide if you will manage the property yourself or hire a professional property manager.
  • Launch and market your rental: Once your listing is live, promote it through social media, local tourism websites, and paid advertising. Encourage satisfied guests to leave reviews to build your reputation. Consider offering special promotions or discounts during slower periods to maintain occupancy.

Some additional tips for success:

  1. Provide exceptional customer service to guests to earn positive reviews and repeat bookings. Respond promptly to inquiries and address any issues that arise during their stay.
  2. Stay up-to-date on local STR regulations and tax requirements, as they may change over time. Renew your certificate annually and file tax returns on time to avoid penalties.
  3. Maintain open communication with neighbors and work to address any concerns about your rental's impact on the community. Be a responsible STR operator to protect the future of your business.

With careful planning and compliance with local regulations, a short-term rental can be a profitable venture in Chatham County's growing vacation market. The key is to understand the rules, provide an excellent guest experience, and adapt to the evolving STR landscape.

Who to Contact in Chatham County about Short-Term Rental Regulations and Zoning?

For questions about short-term rental regulations, licensing, and zoning in unincorporated Chatham County, contact:

Chatham County Department of Building Safety & Regulatory Services
Phone: 912-201-4300
Fax: 912-201-4301
Address: 1117 Eisenhower Drive, STE D, Savannah, GA 31406
Email: gsanderson@chathamcounty.org
Website: https://buildingsafety.chathamcountyga.gov/

For properties within Savannah city limits, contact:

City of Savannah Planning & Urban Design Department
Phone: 912-651-6530
Email: planning@savannahga.gov
Address: 5515 Abercorn St, Savannah, GA 31405
Website: https://www.savannahga.gov/1476/Short-Term-Vacation-Rentals

For properties on Tybee Island, contact:

City of Tybee Island Planning & Zoning Division
Phone: 912-472-5033
Email: lmobley@cityoftybee.org
Address: 403 Butler Ave, Tybee Island, GA 31328
Website: https://www.cityoftybee.org/175/Planning-Zoning

Some online communities and forums where Chatham County short-term rental hosts connect and share information include:

  • Bigger Pockets Savannah Real Estate Investing Forum: https://www.biggerpockets.com/forums/530/topics/1038505-buying-a-couple-of-short-term-rental-properties-in-savannah
  • Savannah Subreddit: https://www.reddit.com/r/savannah/ (search for short-term rental discussions)
  • Airbnb Savannah Host Forum: https://community.withairbnb.com/t5/Hosting/Savannah-Host-Forum/td-p/1282055
  • Savannah VRBO/HomeAway Host Forum: https://community.homeaway.com/t5/Community-Center/Savannah-Short-Term-Rental-Hosts/td-p/7589
  • Savannah Short-Term Rental Alliance: https://www.savannahstra.org/

These local government contacts and online host communities can provide support and the latest information on short-term rental requirements in different parts of Chatham County. Regulations can vary significantly between unincorporated areas, Savannah, Tybee Island, and other municipalities, so it's important to verify the rules for your specific property location.

What Do Airbnb Hosts in Chatham County on Reddit and Bigger Pockets Think about Local Regulations?

Based on discussions from Chatham County short-term rental hosts on Reddit and Bigger Pockets, here are some key experiences and opinions regarding local regulations:

  • Many hosts feel Chatham County, especially Savannah, is relatively Airbnb-friendly compared to other cities. While there are rules around licensing, taxes, and zoning, the regulations are not as strict as some cities that have recently cracked down on STRs.
  • However, hosts note that Savannah has placed caps on new STR permits in certain historic districts, with waiting lists of 3+ years. This makes the market very competitive for new hosts trying to enter.
  • Hosts advise that the key to operating legally is understanding the specific rules for your property's location, as regulations vary between unincorporated Chatham County, Savannah, and Tybee Island.
  • On Tybee Island, only 6 properties are officially registered as STVRs, according to county data. However, hosts claim there are many more operating, suggesting some may be unlicensed.
  • Some hosts are frustrated that the city seems to "look the other way" on illegal STRs because Airbnb collects and pays the lodging taxes. They want stricter enforcement and fines for rule-breakers.
  • Hosts caution that STRs in residential areas often generate complaints from neighbors about noise, parking, and the revolving door of guests. They emphasize the importance of screening guests and setting clear house rules.
  • While STRs can be very profitable in the Savannah market, hosts warn that the business requires a lot of work. Issues with unruly guests causing damage are not uncommon, and the market is competitive.
  • Some experienced hosts are considering switching from short-term to medium-term rentals (1-6 months), renting to traveling nurses, film industry workers, etc. They find medium-term to be less stressful than constant guest turnover.

Overall, Chatham County hosts acknowledge the need for reasonable regulations but want to see the rules consistently enforced. The STR market remains lucrative but is becoming more challenging for new entrants to navigate.

Disclaimer: While we here at BNBCalc strive to keep all of our regulation guides updated and accurate with all the latest local laws, we still do not suggest using them as your sole or primary source for local regulations. We also do not recommend you rely on the third-party sources we link to or reference, and we are not responsible for any of the information on these third-party sites. These guides are for entertainment purposes only and only provide basic information and should not be considered as legal advice.

We highly recommend directly contacting the responsible parties for each and hearing what their officials have to say. Ultimately, it's your responsibility as an investor to ensure you fully comply with the local laws, and it's best to speak with professionals before making an investment decision.

⚡️
Reveal your property’s rental profitability

Buy this property and list it on Airbnb.