Rental registration a bad idea
Homeowners and renters throughout the City of Charleston — including the peninsula, West Ashley, and James, Johns and Daniel islands — need to be concerned with local government overreach through a proposed residential rental registration ordinance. Currently masked as a response to issues being caused by college students renting residences downtown, a government program this large will undoubtedly infringe on the rights of all property owners in the city.
The Charleston Trident Association of Realtors (CTAR) opposes a rental registration ordinance, on the grounds it creates different classes of properties, creates an unnecessary and bloated city department, and forces property owners to violate state law.
The proposed ordinance endorsed by peninsula neighborhood groups is far more invasive than they lead on. For example, the last draft city staff shared with CTAR requires the property owner to disclose information about their tenants to the city.
Requiring such disclosure is invasive and an overreach. Most importantly, many of the procedures for infractions in their proposed ordinance violate the South Carolina Landlord Tenant Act, which all landlords and property managers in the state are required to follow.
The vast majority of property and homeowners in the City of Charleston are responsible managers and residents of the City of Charleston, and most landlords own just one rental property. As always, there are bad apples in the bunch, but it is ridiculous to subject all city residents to onerous laws in response to issues created by a few.
More than a decade ago, the city created the Livability Court as a compromise to deal with resident issues, such as those that occur with student tenants, and it has won awards for how it handles them.
This is the proper and appropriate role for the city to take with regard to housing regulation, which treats homeowners, renters and landlords equally. Also, livability violations are not isolated to renters. Homeowners can commit violations as well, so requiring registration of rental units is unjust and unfair by singling out of a specific class of property owners.
The peninsula neighborhood groups assert that it is too difficult for the city to issue violations when there are renters present — an argument that doesn’t make much sense to us. If you know where the violation took place, with a little initiative, you can easily determine who the property owner is. Tax records provide the city with the name and contact information for the owner of every property in the city. The city would not, as the letter writer alleges, have a difficult time tracking down the property owner — they could simply send a letter and/or contact the property owner of record, just as they would if it were an owner-occupied residence. We propose a partnership between the City of Charleston and Charleston County to address this supposed concern.
Homeowners who make their homes available for rent comprise a significant source of revenue for the city. Under South Carolina’s penalizing property tax system, these individuals are solely shouldering the residential property tax burden to fund our schools. They pay 50 percent more to fund police, fire and other city services, including the livability department. In all, they pay three times more property taxes on average than an owner-occupied residence.
Taxpayers need to be concerned with the cost associated with creating such a registration process. The notion that it would be less expensive to implement a rental registry rather than city employees doing a little research in order to hold the small number of bad apples accountable is preposterous. The costs landlords would face if this ordinance were adopted will be passed on to renters through higher rents — forcing an already high cost of living to be even higher through government regulation.
Homeownership on the peninsula and in other areas of the City of Charleston is unattainable for some, and not a priority for others, making the availability and accessibility of affordable residential rental options a necessity. A rental registration ordinance will no doubt put this in jeopardy.
For more than two years, CTAR has been actively involved in this issue — we’ve invited city staff to discuss the issues with CTAR’s Property Management Group. We hosted a forum for Realtors to share their concerns with city staff over the proposed rental registration ordinance. As a result of that forum, city staff agreed with the association regarding several of our points.
We encourage city staff to provide us details on any proposal changes, if they exist, eliminating the perceived collusion with the peninsula neighborhood group presidents.
Wil Riley is CEO of the Charleston Trident Association of Realtors.