Charleston’s relatively new ordinance on short-term rentals was smartly designed, unlike the preceding nearly citywide ban, to be enforceable. So far, that seems to be the case.
According to city Livability Director Dan Riccio, there are nearly 500 fewer short-term rental units advertised in Charleston than there were when enforcement of the new rules began.
More than 220 letters have been sent to owners of non-compliant listings. Thirty cases have been taken to court and 66 summonses have been issued. This is great progress.
Of course, there are still about 1,580 short-term rental units listed on sites like Airbnb and HomeAway, and only 175 have been permitted citywide, so there’s still a lot of work to do in bringing rentals into compliance with city rules. But the effort so far is commendable.
Aside from being more enforceable than the previous ordinance, Charleston’s newer rules aim to ensure that short-term rentals have a less problematic impact on quality of life for long-term residents and on the broader housing market.
The most popular listings on most short-term rental services tend to be whole-home rentals, meaning that guests can occupy an entire house or apartment without the owner being present. Sometimes, property investors buy up residences specifically for that purpose.
But whole-home rentals can be problematic when guests are unruly and owners are unresponsive. It can also frustrate neighbors who would rather not deal with a constant influx of strangers.
More broadly, whole-home rentals force residents and would-be homeowners to compete with de facto hotels, driving up rent prices for long-term tenants and disrupting the broader housing market. And since visitors generally prefer to stay in attractive, walkable neighborhoods, the problem is particularly pronounced in the most popular — and otherwise pricey — parts of town.
Whole-home rentals are effectively banned under Charleston’s rules, since rentals must be in owner-occupied homes and property owners must be present while guests are visiting.
Of course, whole-home short-term rentals have long been banned in Charleston outside of the downtown Cannonborough-Elliotborough neighborhood. But that didn’t stop hundreds of property owners from flaunting the rules.
Fortunately, that’s getting tougher. As The Post and Courier’s David Slade reported, city officials are using software to flag violators in an efficient and apparently effective way.
“Some people try to circumvent the system,” said Mr. Riccio on Friday, while acknowledging that many people want to be compliant and may not know all the rules. “We have to be tenacious.”
“It will take some time but we’re already seeing a tremendous decrease in [short-term rental] advertisements,” he said.
That’s welcome progress in bringing a potentially disruptive and problematic industry under control. After all, Charleston welcomes visitors with open arms. But we’re also a living, working city.