- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 22, 2015

ATLANTA (AP) - Finding ways to regulate and tax Internet-based travel accommodations such as Airbnb and other rental websites may be on the agenda for Georgia lawmakers when they convene in January.

But Tuesday’s first study committee meeting on the issue revealed they will face some tricky questions.

For instance, lawmakers will have to decide what qualifies as a short-term rental - and how to treat apartments or homes available 365 days a year versus private homes in places like Athens that might only be rented out during the University of Georgia’s six home football game weekends.

As Georgia and other states debate whether to regulate the growing industry, cities including Portland, San Francisco and coastal Savannah have moved ahead with local laws. Savannah officials told committee members about their yearlong process to develop a city ordinance defining short-term rentals and ensuring owners pay taxes and minimize noise or parking problems.

Writing their own regulations allowed officials to be specific about Savannah’s needs, particularly in historic areas where popular rentals irritated full-time residents, said Jennifer Herman, an assistant city attorney.

“This is really very much a unique local issue,” Herman said. “Our experience has been (focused) on a landmark historic district that’s not similar to other jurisdictions. I don’t think you can paint an across-the-board rule that can apply.”

Representatives for Georgia’s hotels, motels and inns said the status quo isn’t fair statewide. Holly McHaggee, president of the Georgia Innkeepers Association, owns a bed-and-breakfast in Rome, Georgia. McHaggee said she bought her home specifically to run a business, complying with required licensing and inspections. New technology, she said, makes it too easy for others to skip those steps.

“In my mind if you’re getting compensation for overnight lodging, you’re a business and that takes a business license,” she said.

Representatives for Airbnb and HomeAway, two popular services for finding rentals, told the committee they’re open to simple regulations but also count on renters to hold owners accountable.

Hosts and guests rate each other after an Airbnb stay, creating “real-time accountability,” said Jillian Irvin, public policy director for the San Francisco-based firm.

“So if there’s no smoke detector, a guest is able to report that to the company and the company talks to the host,” she said.

The committee has until Dec. 1 to make a recommendation to the full House of Representatives.

Rep. Terry Rogers, a Clarkesville Republican chairing the committee, said the panel will hold at least two more meetings to hear from representatives for city and county governments and discuss revenue and consumer affairs issues.

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