Social media sleuths have been documenting activity at four controversial luxury "treehouses" on Wadmalaw Island, and now, Charleston County has barred the owners from continuing to rent them.
A letter sent to treehouse owners Seth and Tori Bolt on Nov. 13 said the county was revoking their short-term rental permit.
The Bolts had only been allowed to rent two of the structures for a total 72 nights a year between them, and found themselves in a middle of a firestorm on rural Wadmalaw this year when they tried to expand that limit.
The county's letter, sent by Zoning and Planning Director Joel Evans, indicated he had "documents, information and complaints from citizens that demonstrate you are offering or providing the four structures for rent (or other forms of compensation) in excess of the allowable number of rental nights."
The couple has 30 days from when the notification was sent to appeal the decision.
County officials did not specify how many extra nights the structures had been rented and told The Post and Courier to submit a Freedom of Information Act request for the information.
Tori Bolt said in a statement the couple is in compliance with rental rules. She did not specify whether they would appeal the county's decision.
"Despite assurances from the county that we would be given a fair opportunity to rebut the accusations made against us, the county took this action without providing any notice or the opportunity to tell our side of the story," she wrote in an email.
Seth Bolt is a bassist in Christian rock band NEEDTOBREATHE, and his wife Tori is a former TV news reporter. The couple built their first treehouse in the small Upstate town of Walhalla in 2016, and it quickly became a popular destination on AirBnb.
The four similar structures built on Wadmalaw, the couple initially said, were intended as a retreat for friends and family. But many on the rural island, which is notoriously hostile to development, suspected the couple intended to make the Lowcountry cabins just as popular for visitors.
The Bolts withdrew an attempt to get more rental nights this October after an extended campaign of opposition by islanders and others.
Islanders worried about opening the door to development if the county granted them special zoning. But at times, online commentary on the Bolts grew personal and pointed.
The couple said in October they wanted to focus on repairing their relationship with the island community.
But for some, the conflict wasn't over: residents continued to scour social media for hints that guests were staying at the treehouses.
One email sent to the county, which was provided to The Post and Courier on Friday, linked to a folder of 20 screen shots of alleged guests taken from Instagram. The Bolts have heavily promoted their properties on social media, where guests often post about their stays.
Tori Bolt said that "misinformation disseminated on social media and political pressure has interfered with our right to due process."
It is possible that some of the people who stayed at the cabins were friends of the Bolts or otherwise did not pay for their visit.
It's unclear if social media exposure would count as "other forms of compensation," as outlined in the county's letter, and constitute a violation of rental rules.