Short-term rentals


The city of Charleston's Short-Term Rental Task Force on Tuesday meticulously parsed through the rough draft of a new ordinance that would legalize and regulate short-term rentals across the majority of the city.

Generally, the city is proposing to keep the same rules already in place for the Old and Historic Districts, which prohibit short-term rentals in every neighborhood on the peninsula south of the Septima P. Clark Expressway, also known as the Crosstown, except the commercially zoned areas of the Cannonborough-Elliottborough.

The short-term rentals there that already have been permitted will not have to adhere to any of the new rules.

That means short-term rentals will be allowed under certain conditions north of the Crosstown on the peninsula and elsewhere, including West Ashley, James Island, Daniel Island and Johns Island.

The city's proposed conditions are:

  • Only one short-term rental would be allowed per taxable property. 
  • The property must be owner-occupied, and the owner must be present on the property during the entire rental period.
  • Short-term rentals would not be allowed to host more than four people at a time, regardless of how large the property is.
  • Owners would have to provide one off-street parking space per rental bedroom.
  • Property owners hoping to host short-term rentals would have to apply for a business license, and in that process, would be required to present the city with a number of documents, including insurance policies and a site plan of where their short-term rental would be within the home.
  • The business license number would have to be included on all property listings on any online rental platforms, such as Airbnb, HomeAway and VRBO. 

The proposal specifies it would be a "punishable offense" for short-term rental hosts to violate any of those rules, and both the hosts and the booking platform would be held responsible. 

It also states violations would be logged on the property owner's business license record, and only those in "good standing" would be eligible for license renewals.

The task force agreed on most points but spent nearly three hours ensuring each one stood up to scrutiny.

After much discussion about whether the maximum occupancy of four people excluded some families, the majority ultimately agreed that the ordinance should specify a maximum of four adults, older than 18 years old. 

Another debate emerged when the group discussed the requirement that owners must be on the premises when renting out parts of their homes. 

Task force members Gabe Joseph, Elena Tuerk and Renee Singletary argued that owners should be able to rent out their entire homes and leave town if they want to, as long as they have a designated agent based in town to respond to any complaints or issues. 

"The inability for people to rent a whole house really seems too restrictive for what the model is," Tuerk said, adding property managers could also register with the city and be penalized for any violations. "There is a lot of incentive to comply with the city."

City Planner Jacob Lindsey said the staff wanted to make the new ordinance as enforceable as possible, and adding a new layer of regulations for property managers could complicate the task for enforcement officers.

"What good is it going to do to create a system that they can't enforce?" said Ann Hester Willis.

Many task force members, including members of historic preservation groups, agreed.

Ultimately, the group decided to look at whether designating property management agents has worked in other cities that regulate short-term rentals, such as New Orleans. 

The task force also asked the planning staff to re-evaluate its proposed parking requirements, which some members said might not be flexible enough for properties that don't have ample space for off-street parking. 

"I think there’s some good, common sense discussion about this and we can get back to you," Lindsey said.

Earlier Tuesday, Lindsey said the feedback about each of the proposals will help the staff draft the ordinance for the Planning Commission to review in October before it is sent to City Council in November.

The next Short-Term Rental Task Force meeting is scheduled for Sept. 13. The city will announce further details. 

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.