Homeowners throughout Chickamauga can now rent out their property on short-term-rental sites like Airbnb and VRBO.

The City Council unanimously passed an ordinance outlining the procedure and regulations at its meeting March 2. Previously, properties zoned R-1 residential were not permitted to operate as short-term rentals.

The ordinance establishes a Short-Term Vacation Rental District encompassing the main thoroughfares of the city, including Highway 341, Highway 27, Crittenden Avenue and Five Points Road. Both residential and commercially zoned properties within the district may now apply to operate as short-term rentals.

"[The ordinance is] mainly to be proactive instead of reactive," City Manager Michael Haney said, comparing short-term rentals to motels, both of which bring in unknown occupants and are typically transient in nature.

The ordinance requires interested residents to acquire a business license and designate a property contact in case there are issues with the rental, similar to what is required for such rentals in unincorporated Walker County.

"You don't know who you got in them, where they come from," Haney said to the council. "Bottom line is we're trying to protect the public."

The ordinance came about after Katherine Dodd Hanna requested the city annex her home from unincorporated Walker County late last year.

Dodd Hanna has owned a four-bedroom home on Five Points Road just outside city limits for over 50 years. About three years ago, she moved out to the Colorado Rockies with one of her daughters and began renting out the family home on Airbnb.

But through the annexation process, she ran into an issue: R-1 residential zoned properties in the city were not permitted to operate short-term rentals, which followed the same restrictions as hotels or motels.

With the new short-term rental ordinance in place, the council also unanimously approved Dodd Hanna's request for annexation.

The move will save Dodd Hanna 3% in hotel/motel taxes.

The city of Chickamauga currently has a 5% occupancy tax. Unincorporated Walker County does, too, but not for long.

Last March, Walker County Sole Commissioner Shannon Whitfield adopted a stepped 8% hotel tax and business license system that will go into full effect in October of this year.

The occupancy tax primarily affects short-term vacation rentals since there are no hotels in unincorporated Walker County. About 60% of money brought in through the tax goes toward tourism initiatives, and the rest into the county's general fund, according to the county's website.

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