Following a lengthy timeline of planning and discussion, the Town of Mount Pleasant may soon implement short-term rental (STR) restrictions as early as August.
One of the town's Principal Planners, Michele Canon, walked the council through the history and timeline of STR in the municipality at the July 9 council meeting. Starting back in 2008, the town adopted an ordinance prohibiting STRs in the Old Village Historic District. Then in 2010 the town's planning staff was directed to draft a text amendment prohibiting them town-wide. That ordinance was denied by town council at first reading. More recently, in February 2018 in response to growing concerns of Accessory Dwelling Units (ADUs), their use as STRs and the increased popularity of STR rental companies the town's Planning and Development Committee directed staff to review the issue again.
Canon explained that since then, the town's planning staff has researched local trends, spoken to other municipalities about regulation, received committee and public input and participated in a software program with Charleston County to discover the number, location and type of STR units in the town.
The process has produced many drafts and Canon said this ultimately led to the ordinance draft that was being presented to council. On May 14, the town adopted an ordinance that required STR operators to have a business license to rent a dwelling unit, or portion thereof, for less than 30 days. Notifications were sent out based on the STR software the town was using in conjunction with Charleston County. As the matter has made its way through the planning commission and committee, there has been loads of public input and information given to the town's planning staff to sort through.
Applying the current regulations, an owner who doesn't live on-site may rent out the house for any length of time and the ADU may not be rented out separately from the house. An owner who lives on-site either the house or ADU may rent out the other structure on a long-term basis. Both the owner and long-term tenant may have up to two unrelated roomers, boarders or domestic employees, who must also be long term (more than 28 days) residents.
Occupancy of an ADU is limited to three people. Also, the existing regulations state that an owner who lives on-site and wishes to rent out one or more rooms and/or an ADU on a short-term basis is subject to the applicable zoning requirements pertaining to Bed and Breakfasts (B&B).
The considerations on the planning staff's radar included potential tax and permit revenues, nature and character of neighborhoods being affected, issues associated with STR tenants, increased tourism accommodations and the popularity of STR in the area, whether this enforcement would require a full-time employee and definitions of STR accommodations
Canon explained the main elements of the draft STR ordinance as:
- Regulates use of residential units as STRS (not commercial)
- For safety reasons only applied to properly inspected residential dwelling units and not pool houses, garages, etc.
- Creates one process for all types of STRs (regardless if the rentals vary from a single room, to an entire dwelling unit)
- Caps the number of STR throughout town at 1% of dwelling units. Since there are 40,000 units in town that would allow for 400 STR units.
- Every January, planning staff would look at how many dwelling units were added to the town and 1% grow with that number.
- Requires a registration of $250 annually
- Requires an affidavit for meeting safety requirements (building/fire codes)
- Inspection seemed like too much to the planning staff
- Requires general liability insurance
- Requires business license for just one unit rented (previously could have up to four without business licenses)
- Establishes occupancy and prohibits overnight events/parties at STRs
- Prohibits STR activity within any neighborhood that doesn't allow it (due to HOAs with Covenants, Conditions and Restrictions prohibiting STR activity) and in multi-family dwelling units
- Establishes parking requirements of one additional off street space for every dwelling unit rented
- Establishes an enforced mechanism
Members of council voiced their questions and concerns about the ordinance so that the Planning Committee and staff could make some amendments before it comes back for second reading.
Some of the comments included a hospitality tax, asking the finance department to look at the rate of the annual fee and if this will bring revenue to the town, to look at the 1% cap, to look at the parking requirement and discuss if the affidavit would actually require owners to enforce fire code.
"This was based on something that was recognized as a need. Things were going on in the neighborhood, there was one street that had four or five STRs in block. And the owners and families who lived there who bought into the neighborhood wanted to try to maintain a family character," councilmember Joe Bustos said.
He explained when the committee first started researching and working on this they had a tough set of regulations. But, as they worked with owners and people in the community who spoke at committee meetings they learned about STRs.
"I think what we have here, while it may not be perfect, is a good point of departure for this ordinance," Bustos continued. "I think as we go through a year or couple of years we'll probably have to adjust this some. But this gives us a way to have at least a handle on STRs in the town, where they are, if they're licensed, they're going to make sure they're going to be paying taxes like hotels."
The council agreed there were some changes necessary before the next reading and they thanked the planning department and committee for the hard work put into the ordinance. Bustos made a motion to approve first reading of the ordinance and it passed 7-1. Councilmember Kevin Cunnane was the lone vote in dissent, explaining he thinks the town needs to mandate fire inspections in the ordinance. Councilmember G.M. Whitley was absent from the meeting.