For Nalah Garcia-Walker and her husband, real estate investing was their means of creating generational wealth.
So when the couple decided to purchase their first property in Cascade Heights and convert it into an Airbnb two years ago, the decision was rooted in getting supplemental income outside of their day jobs. Garcia-Walker specializes in consulting, entrepreneurship, and content creation, while her husband is a project manager for a tech company.
“Atlanta is gonna continue to develop and grow in five, 10, 20 years from now; the city will be even more robust than it currently is,” Garcia-Walker said. “We wanted to begin purchasing property to experience that jump in equity that we are slated to see in the future.”
And after a first successful year, the duo decided to purchase a second property in the West End, right around the time the city of Atlanta first adopted a resolution targeting short-term rentals through new licensing requirements.
The legislation, first introduced by District 12 council member Antonio Lewis in March 2021, was set to establish accountability for owners and protect communities where properties are located.
Now, the City Council’s Zoning and Community Development/Human Services committees are revisiting the legislation as they work to clarify the steps to obtain a license and rework requirements of the ordinance that have faced backlash.
Garcia-Walker says she and her husband tried to hold off for as long as possible before finally caving in to obtaining a license before the deadline this year, largely due to a lack of penalty from the short-term rental platform itself.
“Honestly, it felt like Airbnb did not want to abide by this whole license thing. They would send notifications, like, ‘Do your license by this date,’” Garcia-Walker said. “That date would come and go. We still don’t have a license. They didn’t take down the listing, so we didn’t prioritize it.”
Under the current ordinance, to obtain a license, short-term rental owners must live in the city of Atlanta. The city caps short-term rental ownership at two properties per resident. One of the properties has to be the owner’s primary residence.
In addition to being an Atlanta resident, owners must pay $150 annually for the license, plus an 8% tax rental fee for each property. The ordinance includes hefty fines aimed at curbing noise and parties so as to not disrupt the communities where the short-term rentals are located.
Darnell Spruill, who also operates an Airbnb in downtown Atlanta, agrees that the limitations surrounding the licensing requirement — allowing for only two properties per owner — is a challenge for residents wanting to expand their business inside the perimeter.
“I did hope to eventually grow my portfolio of rental properties specifically in the city of Atlanta,” Spruill said. “Sure, I can look in metro areas outside of city limits, but the selling point of Airbnb is having a home option close to tourist locations, not 45 minutes outside of the city.”
Yet, despite the limitations, Spruill hopes that updates to the ordinance will mean answering some of the questions left unanswered by the vagueness of requirements in the current document.
“It doesn’t say I can’t have multiple LLCs, and it doesn’t say those LLCs can’t establish Airbnbs,” Spruill said. “I think if I understood the true purpose behind why you’re trying to have this ordinance in place, maybe I can stand for it more.”
Quality control and public safety were at the forefront of the city’s decision in formulating the ordinance, as violent interactions and the rise of “party houses” became a major concern for Atlanta residents.
“It is a way to ensure homeowners or long-term tenants a way to legally operate a short-term rental unit and earn additional income, while providing additional ways for people to visit our city,” said Greg Pace, the city’s Office of Buildings director, in a statement.
Black Airbnb hosts like Paulette Montague say the ordinance favors locals like herself as a means of protection against outside and corporate investors.
With single-family homes throughout the metro being consistently bought by large investment firms, pushing the dream of homeownership out of reach for many first-time buyers, Montague said that protections through ordinances like this one are key for short-term rental owners to turn a profit.
“When you have outsiders coming in, they saturate the market, and so that makes it more difficult to get bookings,” she said. “Whereas you would normally be booked every single day of the week, you might only be booked three or four days out of the week because there are so many Airbnbs.”
Montague, who just recently terminated her short-term rental property in September 2022, said the bigger issue she had with Airbnb came from the platform itself, which failed to protect her as an owner when faced with a guest issue. However, she does believe it gives residents the opportunity to create extra streams of income and offset financial burdens brought on by outside factors like inflation.
“As a Black woman in the city of Atlanta, we, as a community, have experienced this for at least for the last 20 years; people coming in and disrupting what we’re doing,” she said.
The city’s work session, originally set for March 16, has been rescheduled for Thursday, March 30, at 1 p.m. at City Hall in Council Chambers. The meeting is open to the public and will be streamed online via the city’s website, YouTube channel, Facebook and Twitter pages, and Channel 26.
As for Garcia-Walker, she and her husband are currently in the process of obtaining the city’s short-term rental license for the upcoming summer season. While waiting to get through the licensing process, she says they’ll keep operating their Airbnb properties.
“I wanna be able to do what I wanna do and I didn’t really see the point of the license as a homeowner,” Garcia-Walker said. “I don’t want additional things getting in the way of making money from the property that I bought.”