City of Tybee Island sued over short-term vacation rental rules

City of Tybee Island sued over short-term vacation rental rules

TYBEE ISLAND, Ga. (WTOC) – A group of residents, business owners, realtors, and short-term vacation rental managers, known as the Tybee Alliance, are taking the City of Tybee Island to court.

They filed a lawsuit over the city’s handling of the short-term vacation rental properties.

“We’re dealing with a few folks who want to turn a vacation island into a private island,” said Dusty Church, a plaintiff and chair of the Tybee Alliance and the director of owner and business development for Tybee Vacation Rentals.

“Enough is enough. We have been trying to negotiate and show up to the meetings and be present in good faith and it feels like every time we show up to the city council meetings we are just not heard,” said Jenny Rutherford, a plaintiff and broker with Jenny Rutherford Real Estate.

In August of 2021, the city enacted a moratorium on STVRs with a goal to strike a “balance” between residents’ quality of life and rental properties.

What was originally expected to be a 90-day moratorium is now on its 14th month. It’s been in place as the city works to write new STVR rules.

“It’s so ambiguous we really don’t know what is the goal,” said Rutherford.

“The city has pushed for with, essentially, the same thing they proposed six months ago,” said Church.

The Chair of Tybee Alliance, Dusty Church also works for Tybee Vacation Rentals. A company that manages about 300 properties.

“We’re now forced to act in the courts.”

The lawsuit lists the city, mayor and all council members as defendants.

It reads that the city’s original ordinance, put in place in 2016 to regulate the use of residential dwellings as short-term vacation rentals, is “invalid and unenforceable” because the code sections aren’t consistent with Georgia law.

“State law prohibits rental properties from being required to be registered with a city and the city of Tybee, as with many municipalities, has required that,” said Church.

But Tybee’s ordinance says operators are required to register and obtain a separate license for each residential dwelling rental property it operates and it doesn’t stop there.

Tybee Alliance members, like Steve Buckner say the new restrictions the city is now trying to impose, like not allowing rentals in residential zones and a requirement for properties to rent out for at least 90 days of the year to maintain STVR status, is an “attack” on peoples’ property rights.

“They’re looking to prohibit or take away licenses in our one where we put the rental property. Our home would be required to rent for 90 days, which might not fit our plan,” said Buckner.

Like Buckner, many people say they own an STVR to help them pay to live on the island. Realtor and plaintiff, Jenny Rutherford says a lot of buyers are afraid to invest on Tybee now without a clear understanding of what’s going to happen next.

“It feels like that this ordinance was put together by people who want to be able to choose their neighbors,” said Rutherford.

And they feel like all properties should have the same right to rent regardless of where it’s located or how many days it’s rented for.

“If you have a problem with parking and trash and noise then enforce it. They’re trying to put a cap on who can and who can’t have registrations and that’s not appropriate. There’s just no way to enforce it legally,” said Keith Gay, a plaintiff and owner of Tybee Beach Vacation Rentals.

Church also says there are more fulltime residents on the island than ever before and if the city is trying to get even more permanent residents.

“Vacation rentals are a major feeder for folks to become fulltime residents through eventual retirement into their rental properties,” said Church.

The council will have the second reading of the proposed ordinance on Thursday, which means the moratorium could come to an end.

“If they pass the second reading on Thursday we will simply amend our complaint to include the additional violations of law that the city council has passed,” said Church.

We reached out to the city for a statement. They said:

The City of Tybee Island has no comment on pending litigation or upcoming city council meetings where STRs may be discussed.

The meeting is on Thursday at 6:30 at the public safety building.