Short-term rentals (copy)

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The city of Charleston's Short-Term Rental Task Force met 11 times over the past six months to craft a policy to regulate the rapidly growing short-term rental industry.

On Thursday, the Planning Commission decided it couldn't properly vet the draft ordinance and vote on it after two hours of discussing it. 

"I think we would like enough time to give this more thought," Commissioner Chris Fraser said. The others agreed.

The decision followed comments from dozens of residents in the crowded meeting. Many were hosts of short-term rentals who wanted to operate legally, but they generally didn't like some key aspects of the task force's proposal.

The rules would require short-term rentals to be owner-occupied, registered and licensed by the city. Eligible homes would have to be at least 50 years old. Each would be limited to four adult guests at a time. Children under 18 years old wouldn't be counted.

The regulation's central feature — and the one that drew the most criticism — is that property owners would have to be on the premises while hosting guests. The measure is meant to limit the potential for noise complaints or other livability problems while guests are staying in the residential areas.

"To have to stay on the property with your guests — it's just not going to happen," said Kevin High, who said he's been managing short-term rentals for 10 years. "I can count on one hand how many problems I’ve had with my neighbors and my guests."

The owner-occupancy requirement is also meant to keep real estate companies from buying up large swaths of properties to use them as whole-home rentals. 

Yvonne Fortenberry of Harleston Village in downtown Charleston said that's already happening in her neighborhood. 

"Not only do you have the noise, the trash, you have no neighbors anymore. You’re changing the total character of the neighborhoods," she said.

Others took issue with the 50-year requirement, which is meant to keep new short-term rentals from being built.

Debbie Brown of President Street, for instance, said she wanted the option of renting out the accessory unit she just built in her back yard. But under the proposal, she wouldn't be allowed to.

Given all the different perspectives and ideas to consider, Commissioner Terry Seabrook wondered why the Planning Commission hadn't met with the Short-Term Rental Task Force to go through the details sooner.

"Why have we never interacted with them and they’ve been working on this for a year? I don’t think that’s fair to them," she said. 

The commission will bring up the matter again Oct. 18.

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.