Short-term rentals (copy)


Charleston’s Short Term Rental Task Force still has two more meetings to develop a draft ordinance to present to City Council this fall. But after eight months of meetings, the outlines of what that ordinance will look like are starting to take shape.

So far, the plan looks like a good one.

On Tuesday, the city’s planning staff presented an outline of potential rules the task force has discussed so far. Planning Director Jacob Lindsey said the bullet points reflect what the city would like to see in a final ordinance.

Basically, the new rules look a lot like existing ones, with modifications to make them more enforceable.

The biggest change is extending the area in which short-term rentals will be permissible well beyond the current boundaries of an overlay district in the Cannonborough-Elliotborough neighborhood.

Rentals would be allowed almost everywhere in the city, with the exception of the old and historic districts. Those districts would still be subject to existing bed-and-breakfast regulations.

Under the new rules, property owners would be required to be present during a rental, meaning that whole-home rentals would not be allowed. Technically, they aren’t allowed in most of the city under existing regulations.

Whole-home rentals are nonetheless the most popular type of rental in Charleston, with hundreds of properties listed on sites like Airbnb and HomeAway. HomeAway and VRBO, two of the most popular short-term rental listing services, include only whole-home rentals.

But renting out entire homes on a short-term basis pits travelers against residents in an already tight and pricey real estate market, particularly in popular tourist areas like the Charleston peninsula. The city is right to limit that practice in an effort to ensure that its neighborhoods are still home to people who live and work here.

Short-term rentals would also be required to get a business license, submit a site plan, obtain a city permit and carry insurance. One off-street parking space per rental bedroom would be mandatory. A permit number would have to be included with the rental listing.

All are sensible regulations.

But again, the city already has extremely restrictive rules on short-term rentals. The problem so far is that people don’t seem to be overly concerned about breaking them. And the city’s only tool for enforcement — a fine totaling about $1,000 — isn’t exactly a harsh punishment when short-term rentals can generate that much money in just a few nights.

To give the new ordinance sharper teeth, city officials are proposing to penalize the listing of a short term rental rather than the act of renting it out. It would be easier to prove a violation, and charging the maximum fine for each day a listing stays online would significantly increase the total penalty.

It’s a smart plan, and one that other cities like New York have implemented with some success. New York emerged victorious on the issue when Airbnb settled a lawsuit against the city late last year.

Charleston Mayor John Tecklenburg, his planning staff and the members of the Short Term Rental Task Force have shown that they are committed to protecting a living, working, neighborly Charleston by preventing the unchecked growth of short-term rentals.

As the task force convenes its last two meetings, members should work to make sure that the final ordinance is at least as strong as the rules discussed over the past few months and outlined this week.

Again, enforcement will be key.