Tim Chitwood

Does Columbus need a law against sexually themed short-term lodging?

Special to the Ledger-Enquirer
Special to the Ledger-Enquirer

Wow. The things you miss while you’re covering crime.

The other day I was writing another homicide story when the business reporter leaned over and said something like, “Did you know someone applied for a business license for a sadomasochistic bed and breakfast?”

“Yeah,” I said, like I always do when I’m not listening. “Wait, what?”

It turned out he was working on a piece about proposed regulations for short-term private lodging like Airbnb, and he was reviewing the video of a Sept. 11 Columbus Council meeting.

That’s when council held a public hearing on a draft city ordinance, and he noticed that at one point in the discussion, the city revenue manager told councilors someone applied for a business license to turn a house into a sex B and B, with patrons paying for rooms with different themes.

This was news to me, I told him: “Can you monitor the police scanner?” I asked. “I need to go by a bank machine and get some cash. Is this place in the Historic District?”

Just kidding. I didn’t say that. I thought of it later.

Airbnb host Jean Bragg rents out a property on Cherry Street in downtown Macon, Georgia. She said now is not the time to tax on short-term vacation rentals.

This was of interest to me because I own a Victorian home I often threaten to turn into a B and B as a business loss for a tax write-off. I think you can design one to fail, first by naming it with an alienating logo: The Rusty Blade, The Bloody Sheet, The Crusty Skull, Bedbug’s Bunks N’ Biscuits.

After that, you just have to be rude to anyone who stays there, like serve them dry cereal for breakfast with a clearly posted “Bring Your Own Milk” policy, because you don’t have time to check expiration dates for these losers.

I’ve made most of these jokes before, I know, because a B and B owner afterward told me I was stealing their business plan.

I don’t know what you’d name a deviant sex B and B, in the South. (“Chains & Thangs.”) But I know you can hear the description about an hour and 42 minutes into the council video posted at www.columbusga.org.

The point of debate there is whether the city needs five pages of regulations for AirbnB-type lodging. Some of the rules proposed early on did not sound realistic, such as the owner’s having to be within two hours’ travel if summoned by local authorities.

If you’ve rented absentee-owner property online, like a beach house, you know the owners are never two hours away. The owners are hundreds of miles away, which is why they’re not freaking out about total strangers tracking wet sand into their expensive vacation home. Were they within a two-hour drive, they’d be the ones spilling frozen margaritas on the carpet.

Anyway, that got changed so the owner just has to leave a local contact for emergencies.

In the Sept. 11 video, Councilor Judy Thomas said some of the regulations appeared burdensome, and the businesses should be encouraged, not restrained. Then Revenue Manager Yvonne Ivey warned Thomas about a license application for a sex B and B.

“They were going to be sexually oriented types of themed rooms – sadomasochist-type. I’m sorry to be blunt, but that’s what she said to me. So, we were concerned about that,” Ivey said.

“The way she was going to do it, you had to pay extra money for each of those keys, and each of those rooms would have a different type of theme, whatever your sexual desire was going to be, that’s what they would cater to.”

Thomas said city law already prohibits that.

That’s good to know, because I hear getting caught with just one motel room key in your pocket will get you divorced. I hate to think what happens if your spouse finds four, each with a different theme.

Council’s to vote on the ordinance later this month. Anyone interested can find the draft law on the city website.

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