Wednesday, July 26, 2017

New short-term rental rules begin to take shape under Charleston task force

Eligibility requirements up for debate

Posted by Dustin Waters on Wed, Jul 26, 2017 at 12:24 PM

click to enlarge Cannonborough-Elliottborough is home to Charleston's only legally allowed short-term rentals - CLAIRE HAINES FILE PHOTO
  • Claire Haines file photo
  • Cannonborough-Elliottborough is home to Charleston's only legally allowed short-term rentals
Progress is slow for the group tasked with crafting a new set of rules to govern short-term rentals across Charleston.

After first meeting last November, the 18-member task force has been working toward nailing down what they'd like to see in a new ordinance to be presented to the city's Planning Commission later this year. With the proliferation of short-term rentals in Charleston and many operating illegally under the current rules, the city's Short-Term Rental Task Force met Tuesday to discuss who should and who should not be allowed to rent under the proposal that has yet to be finalized.  "Our intent has always been that should the task force deem it good to change our process, and I think we've already said that is a good thing, we would need to draft an ordinance and take that to the Planning Commission over the regular course of how we always create ordinances, as opposed to taking some kind of report or something like that. That's not our intent," City Planner Jacob Lindsey told the task force on Tuesday. "I hope we can get a round to your recommendations in September and hopefully get those to Planning Commission, but it may be October because we have to have time to process that and make an ordinance draft. Time is of the essence though."

In Charleston, short-term rentals are currently allowed only in commercially zoned portions of the Cannonborough-Elliotborough neighborhood, but that hasn't stopped property owners in other sections of the city from opening up their doors to temporary guests. When it comes to rewriting the rules on short-term rentals, the task force is currently considering a new set of exceptions that would expand the scope of who is eligible to legally rent out their homes. The first exception up for consideration related to owner-occupied homes and their ability to be used as short-term rentals.

"It's always been my position and the Historic Charleston Foundation's position that the only acceptable short-term rentals would be owner on-premise within the Historic District, someone who's there," said Christopher Cody of the Historic Charleston Foundation who was appointed to the task force by Mayor John Tecklenburg.  The task force arrived at a consensus that those hoping to receive a short-term rental allowance should call the rental property their primary residence. But there remains a bit of disagreement on what constitutes a primary residence.

Task force member Ann Hester Willis suggested that a person must reside in a property for at least 275 days a year before being allowed to rent out a portion of their home. The current rules regulating bed and breakfast operations in the Old and Historic District require owners reside in their home for at least 183 days a year. Additional suggestions regarding how best to verify owner occupation included the requirement that the property to be rented be listed as a person's primary residence on their tax forms. Ultimately, the debate came down to one of accountability — which led task force members to propose that owners must also be at their home during times of short-term rentals. 
click to enlarge A snapshot of downtown Airbnb rentals available over an upcoming weekend - AIRBNB
  • Airbnb
  • A snapshot of downtown Airbnb rentals available over an upcoming weekend
"One of my concerns is about neighborhood character and about losing primary residents on the peninsula. If it is more profitable for me as a resident to leave my house, to not live in it for four months at a time or for as many days as I can get out of it, Charleston is losing Charlestonians," said Cody.

The task force was able to reach additional agreement on setting a limit on the number of guests that can occupy a short-term rental unit at one time, but again digressed into matters of what constitutes a unit and how best to enforce any restrictions that may be set. This discussion spilled into parking requirements for short-term rental properties, with the proposal for requiring one parking spot per rental unit gaining a majority support.

The task force is set to meet again on Aug. 8 to continue discussing the eligibility requirements of future short-term rentals. Regarding complaints that public comments have not been heard during task force meetings, Jacob Lindsey with the Planning Department proposed that an additional meeting could be held to focus solely on hearing feedback from the community.

The final item up for discussion Tuesday was how old must a home be before it is allowed to serve as a short-term rental. According to Kristopher King, task force member and executive director of the Preservation Society of Charleston, federal guidelines state that a property must be 50 years or older to be considered historic and Charleston's rules require that a bed and breakfast be built before 1860. Cody suggested a three-year timeframe be used before short-term rentals be allowed on a property.

While no specific age was decided upon by the task force as a whole, concerns were raised that too great an age requirement for short-term rentals would specifically sideline rentals in certain portions of the city.

"Isn't putting an age on it contrary to what you're trying to achieve though? The idea is to keep residents in the historic districts of Charleston. Is that not something that is encouraging short-term rentals by putting in age? You've got James Island, Johns Island, these other areas that wouldn't qualify for this," said task force member Allison King, who added that the portions of the city that have been most supportive of short-term rentals would be excluded.

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