Short-term rentals allowed on Cannon Street

The city of Charleston currently only allows short-term rentals in commercially-zoned properties in Cannonborough-Elliottborough downtown. The new ordinance would legalize them across the city, under certain circumstances. Abigail Darlington/Staff

The city of Charleston Planning Commission could finally vote on the proposed short-term rental ordinance at a special meeting Monday afternoon after deferring it twice in the past few months.

The new set of rules, crafted by the Short-Term Rental Task Force, would legalize short-term rentals across the city for the first time but would ban whole-home rentals.

The city currently only allows short-term rentals, including whole-home rentals, in commercially-zoned properties in the Cannonborough-Elliottborough neighborhood downtown. The new rules wouldn't apply to them.

The ban is the most controversial aspect of the new regulations because it means hosts would have to stay home during their guests' stays.

Duplexes and carriage houses wouldn't be included in the ban, so they could be listed as whole-home rentals as long as the homeowners are on the premises.

Whole-home rentals are the most popular type of properties on all the platforms, primarily because hosts can rent out their houses while they're traveling themselves, and most guests prefer the privacy.

However, if they are allowed in Charleston, many properties once leased to residents might be converted to short-term rentals — which are much more profitable. 

Debates have also emerged over other elements of the ordinance. 

Some take issue with the requirement that any property used for a short-term rental would have to be at least 50 years old. They say the age limit is arbitrary, and would exclude properties built after 1967. 

Supporters of the rule, however, say it's meant to prevent the construction of new short-term rental properties.

The rules would also limit each rental to four adult guests, regardless of how many rooms are available on a property. Children wouldn't count toward the limit. 

Opponents argue the cap would force larger families to stay in separate places.

The guest cap and the ban on whole-home renting was designed to keep short-term rentals from being used as so-called party houses, where large groups of visitors would potentially disrupt neighbors with noise. 

HomeAway and VRBO, two of the leading hosting search sites, specialize in whole-home rentals. Lobbyists from their parent company, Expedia, have been in Charleston to convince elected officials that whole-home rentals aren't disruptive to neighborhoods. 

The commission will also have to consider the effect short-term rentals have on the character of Charleston's unique, historic neighborhoods. Legalizing them in any capacity could drive up property values in areas where prices are already rising rapidly, threatening more gentrification and the displacement of middle-income residents. 

Airbnb and HomeAway hosts, however, say short-term renting gives residents an opportunity to share in the wealth of the booming visitor industry. Many also argue they should be able to do what they want with their properties, especially if it helps them pay their mortgages and property taxes.

The commission's decision Monday won't be final. Here's how the process will likely unfold:

At the meeting, the commission will probably discuss changes it wants to make to the ordinance, and then schedule another meeting to vote on the revised version before it's sent to City Council, according to City Planner Jacob Lindsey.

Council would review the commission's version, but council members have the authority to make further changes. If council approves it, then it would come up again for a second and final vote at a later meeting. Residents would have a chance to weigh in at a public hearing.

If the commission rejects it Monday, city staff would retool the ordinance and resubmit it. 

Council could also reject the ordinance altogether, which is unlikely given that the large citizens task force volunteered to work on it all year. 

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.