Short Term Rentals (copy) (copy)

A man rides his bike down Cannon Street Tuesday, December 12, 2017. The Cannonborough-Elliotborough neighborhoods was the only one open to short-term rentals in Charleston before the city passed a new ordinance in April. 

Charleston City Council approved new rules to legalize and regulate short-term rentals in April. Now, those rules are gradually starting to take effect.

That’s welcome news.

Over the past few years, short-term rental platforms like Airbnb and HomeAway have exploded in popularity in Charleston, particularly in areas popular with tourists, despite the fact that they were illegal in most parts of the city.

That caused headaches for some homeowners dealing with rowdy temporary neighbors and put added pressure on an already tight housing market.

New regulations might not do much to roll back the proliferation of short-term rentals, but they will at least make it easier for city officials to enforce some ground rules.

On Tuesday, city Planning Director Jacob Lindsey reported to City Council that enforcement is starting to ramp up.

“There were 181 legally entitled units [before the new rules took effect],” said Mr. Lindsey on Tuesday. Those short-term rentals have been certified and are grandfathered in. “We’ve received 102 applications for new short term rentals under the new ordinance.”

That’s a good start, but there are more than 1,600 total short-term listings in city limits identified so far.

The process is still new, so it’s taken a few months to get through them, said Mr. Lindsey. Ideally, that will speed up as city staff learn how to handle new software and applications.

Thirteen summonses have been issued. Forty listings have been removed. More than 80 listing owners have been notified that their properties aren’t compliant with city rules.

“We’re finding that most people want to comply,” said city Livability and Tourism Director Dan Riccio at Tuesday’s council meeting, who pointed out that people started reacting almost as soon as the zoning department started accepting applications in July. “One hundred and fifty people dropped their listings right away.”

A key change in the new rules allows city officials to penalize non-permitted listings rather than the rental itself. That makes it much easier to verify if a rental is permissible and significantly increases the maximum potential fine for an unauthorized listing.

Previously, violations could lead to a maximum fine of about $1,000. But some short-term rentals charge hundreds of dollars per night, making that penalty little more than a slap on the wrist. Now, property owners will be fined $1,000 for each day an illegal listing stays online.

Of course, short-term rentals aren’t just a challenge in Charleston. Mount Pleasant, North Charleston and area beach communities may need to look at tougher rules. Unincorporated parts of Charleston County have new guidelines put into place earlier this year, but they’re a bit more lenient than the city’s, so county officials will need to monitor the situation closely to see how things work out.

So far, Charleston has led the way on regulating short-term rentals. There’s a lot of work left to do, but the progress is encouraging. And the lessons learned will be valuable far beyond city limits.