Short-term rentals (copy) (copy)

Airbnb

Short-term rentals are already operating across the Charleston area by the thousands, but two of the largest municipalities in the region hope their new regulations will put some controls on the rogue industry. 

The city of Charleston updated its policy in April to allow short-term rentals citywide for the first time, but only under strict circumstances

Previously, they were only permitted in the Cannonborough-Elliottborough neighborhood downtown. Thousands have been operating elsewhere illegally because the city wasn't equipped to go after every violator. Its tough new rules and a new software system to monitor online rental listings are expected to curb the trend. 

Charleston County, on the other hand, hasn't regulated the industry before. After receiving some complaints from residents who live near rental properties, the county decided to establish a permitting process for short-term rentals in the unincorporated areas.

County Council initially passed an ordinance last week, with plans to review it again June 19 before taking a final vote July 24.

As it stands now, the policy is far more lenient than the city's. For one thing, virtually any homeowner in the county's jurisdiction will be eligible for a short-term rental permit if he or she applies for one.

In the city, many properties on the peninsula won't meet the requirements. Homes in the Historic District have to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and properties elsewhere downtown have to be at least 50 years old.

Here's a breakdown of how the rules will differ for those that are eligible for a permit in the city and unincorporated parts of the county.

  Unincorporated County City of Charleston
Can you rent out your entire house when you’re not home? Yes No. Hosts have to be home during the rental period.
Do you have to own and live in the house full-time to rent it out? In some zoning districts, yes. But you can apply for a special permit to use a secondary property as a short-term rental in most cases. Yes
What about accessory dwelling units, such as an in-law suite on the property. Can you rent those? Yes. You can even rent out your primary home at the same time. Yes, but only if the host is staying in the primary residence on the property during the rental period.
Are there limits on how many guests can stay at once? No, but you have to provide at least one off-street parking space for every bedroom you plan to rent out. Yes. Four adult guests is the maximum, but kids aren’t counted.

The city's process for issuing permits is also more detailed. Applicants have to show the city blueprints of the property, identifying where guests would park and which bedrooms they'd stay in.

The county's process requires applicants to state how many bedrooms would be rented.

In areas where the city and county share jurisdiction, such as James Island and West Ashley, the different rules might cause some confusion about what's allowed. 

“There is no doubt that will be one of the challenges of enforcement as we move forward," said City Planner Jacob Lindsey.

Dan Riccio, director of the city's Livability Department, said the staff is taking steps to ensure its enforcement system is foolproof. Residents interested in short-term renting will be encouraged to attend various informational workshops before the city begins accepting applications early next month. 

Plus, its new software program will be formatted to only monitor activity on properties within the city's jurisdiction. The data-scraping system scours online listings on platforms such as HomeAway and Airbnb and alerts enforcement officers to any potential violations, such as listings that don't include the city-issued permit number. 

The county will use a similar software system to enforce the new rules once they're finalized, said Joel Evans, the county's director of planning and zoning.

Any jurisdiction looking to get a grip on the rampant short-term rental industry is ultimately faced with the question of whether to allow people to use properties they don't live in for short-term rentals. Whole-house rentals are by far the most popular property type on any booking site, but they pose a unique challenge to neighborhoods because they tend to replace longer-term rentals that would otherwise be available to residents. 

While the county hasn't outright banned whole-house rentals as the city did, Evans said the county's rules do protect neighborhoods in other ways.

The way it's written now, the county's ordinance creates three permit types. The standard is a Limited Home Rental permit, which is for people who own and live in their homes in most residential zoning districts, from very rural areas to the densest urban neighborhoods. With that permit, a homeowner can rent out the entire property, but only for 72 days a year.

The other two types of permits would be publicly vetted, which would allow neighbors to weigh in on applications. 

The Extended Home Rental permit makes it possible to rent out a secondary property more frequently, up to 144 days a year, but it's only issued on a case-by-case basis. Only properties in suburban and urban zoning districts would be eligible.

A third category is for a Commercial Guest House permit, which only applies in a relatively limited number of cases where houses or other dwelling units are located in commercial districts. Applications would require a full site plan review.

"Our ordinance allows the neighborhoods to have a say so as to whether or not they want to see short-term rentals in their neighborhood," Evans said. 

HomeAway, the listing platform that specializes in whole-home rentals, wasn't thrilled about the county's proposed regulations, even if they are more lenient than the city's.

"The overly complicated and administratively burdensome rules could result in confusion for responsible homeowners and ultimately low compliance," said Philip Minardi, the company's policy communications director. 

An Airbnb representative said the company hasn't yet reviewed the county's proposal. 

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Reach Abigail Darlington at 843-937-5906 and follow her on Twitter @A_Big_Gail.

Abigail Darlington is a local government reporter focusing primarily on the City of Charleston. She previously covered local arts & entertainment, technology, innovation, tourism and retail for the Post and Courier.

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