Short-term rentals (copy) (copy)

Airbnb

Months of work by the Charleston Short Term Rental Task Force culminated last week when the group voted to send to the Planning Commission a draft of what may well be one of the country’s toughest ordinances on the issue short of an outright ban.

That’s a win for the many neighborhoods that are otherwise threatened by an unchecked proliferation of short-term rentals.

Among the sensible new rules are requirements that properties be owner occupied and that the owner be present during the rental, a four-person limit on the number of adult renters, and a citywide permitting process that will make the ordinance easier to enforce.

By requiring the owner to be on-site while visitors are present, the city is effectively banning whole-house rentals. That’s almost guaranteed to stir a strong backlash from short-term rental companies like Airbnb and HomeAway, the latter of which exclusively deals with whole-home properties.

City officials should not back down.

It’s important to prevent short-term rentals from having a serious impact on the overall housing supply, particularly in high-demand areas like the Charleston peninsula, where hundreds of whole-home rentals are currently listed, the majority of which are in violation of city rules.

Renting out an entire house or apartment by the day rather than by the month can be lucrative for the owner — some charge hundreds of dollars per night. But it effectively removes a home from the market for long-term residents, exacerbating an already severe shortage of housing and driving up prices elsewhere.

And it’s worth noting that whole-home rentals — along with any other kind of short-term rental — are already banned in almost the entire city, with the exception of the Cannonborough-Elliotborough neighborhood.

But it has so far proven difficult for city officials to enforce existing rules. Crucially, the proposed ordinance would make that process a lot easier.

Rather than simply outlawing noncompliant rentals, the new rules would target noncompliant listings. Property owners would have to get a permit and identifying number from city staff and then include that number in the rental listing.

Listings that don’t include a permit number would be fined by the day rather than for a single offense, dramatically increasing the maximum potential penalty beyond the current $1,000 limit allowed by state law.

And a budget request for 2018 asks for new staff specifically dedicated to enforcing short-term rental rules under the city Livability Department.

One potential sticking point, however, is the requirement that short-term rental properties be at least 50 years old, meeting the nationally accepted definition of a “historic” property. The goal is to prevent investors from completely overhauling properties to accommodate rentals, but the rule risks unintended consequences.

For one thing, entire neighborhoods in the suburbs would automatically be ruled out while almost the entire peninsula outside of the historic district — which has stricter rules — would automatically qualify under the 50-year limit.

It would be better for short-term rentals to be more evenly distributed around the city rather than concentrated in older neighborhoods. The property age requirement needs more scrutiny.

But overall, the ordinance that the Planning Commission will review with the Short Term Rental Task Force today is a strong one. It deserves broad support. And the task force should be commended for standing up to protect quality of life in a living, working Charleston.