TYBEE ISLAND, Ga. (WSAV) — Regulations on short-term rentals are an issue Tybee Island residents say has divided the community for more than a year.
In August 2021, the city put a moratorium on new permits for short-term rentals, meant to last 90 days. City leaders said it was first put into place so the city could look at issues like parking and infrastructure demands. After three extensions, the moratorium is now set to expire at the end of October.
The city now faces a lawsuit from short-term rental property management companies and owners, in an attempt to stop the enforcement of the current regulations.
Filed Wednesday in Chatham County Superior Court, the lawsuit seeks a declaratory judgment and injunctive relief. The city, mayor, city manager and each council member are listed as defendants.
Essentially, the lawsuit argues the city’s short-term rental ordinance violates city and state law, as well as the Constitution. It specifically argues the city, under state law, does not have the authority to require the registration of residential rental properties or a fee to do so.
“We’ve tried to cooperate, we’ve tried to engage in good faith with the city to resolve some of these issues they’ve raised,” said lead litigator Patrick Connell. “But, frankly, my client feels they’ve been left with no recourse but to take action of their own because they’ve not been able to get any traction in the negotiations with Tybee City Council.”
Tybee first enacted regulations on short-term rentals in 2016 and has made amendment changes at least eight times since, according to the lawsuit. The legal challenge comes as city council is set to vote on additional changes to the ordinance next Thursday.
Among the proposed changes is a ban on new rental permits for properties in residential zones that don’t already have them, as well as a requirement for properties to rent out at least 90 days of the year to maintain their short-term rental status. It was discussed at a six-hour long public hearing in September, where the majority of residents who spoke were against the regulations.
“We didn’t want it to come this far,” said Cody Gay, a managing partner at Tybee Beach Vacation Rentals. “But at this point, we really just hope that they’ll stop and reconsider the action they’re taking and basically work towards a more common goal of really managing the situation in a reasonable way.”
For Sherry Oxedine, her short-term rental is her primary source of income. She’s owned it since 2018, pouring thousands of dollars into renovations over the years.
Now, Sherry is concerned additional regulations could hurt her livelihood.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do,” Sherry said. “The city council is throwing things out there that are going to affect my future. So I’m having to make decisions, big financial decisions, based on guessing what the city council is going to do.”
Tybee Alliance, a coalition of local businesses and residents in support of property rights listed on the lawsuit, said they are standing up for owners like Sherry.
“It is the core of our economy,” said chair Dustin Church. “It is what employs me and hundreds of others who need these jobs to pay their bills every day and that’s what we’re trying to protect.”
“We’re not rich, I’m not rich, this is my job and I need it,” Church continued. “And I don’t want a few people who’d like to turn Tybee into a private island to be able to take that away from me.”
The city has said the regulations on short-term rentals came from complaints of noise and overcrowding and said their goal is to improve the quality of life for residents. But Tybee Alliance and other plaintiffs in the lawsuit said they feel it’s gotten to the point where property rights are in question.
City officials said they were not able to comment on the lawsuit. To read the proposed changes to the ordinance, click or tap here.