Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Owner-occupied? Guest limit? Task force weighs short-term rental recommendations

Recommendations could be finalized next month

Posted by Dustin Waters on Wed, Aug 30, 2017 at 12:58 PM

click to enlarge Charleston's Short-Term Rental Task Force plans to review a proposed ordinance on rentals during an upcoming Sept. 13 meeting - DUSTIN WATERS
  • Dustin Waters
  • Charleston's Short-Term Rental Task Force plans to review a proposed ordinance on rentals during an upcoming Sept. 13 meeting
Charleston's Short-Term Rental Task Force began Tuesday's meeting with a clear picture of what the city's new short-term rental rules may become — and they had a few questions.

Combining the main points of consensus among the task force from their previous meetings with regulations that may stand the chance of being enforceable, city staff presented a summary of recommendations for what rules may shape short-term rental eligibility. The first point was geography.

Currently, short-term rentals are only permitted in commercially zoned portions of the Cannonborough-Elliotborough neighborhood. The recommendation from city staff suggests that these previously permitted short-term rentals be allowed to continue operating under current regulations, while areas outside of the city's Old and Historic and Old City districts would fall under the new ordinance yet to be finalized. Although the names of these districts do little in the way of clarity, they basically encompass portions of the peninsula south of the Crosstown.

For these areas, the existing bed and breakfast ordinance would also remain in place, although there has been a great deal of talk from the task force regarding amendments to the bed and breakfast rules. Under present-day rules, bed and breakfast properties now operating in the Old and Historic District must be built before 1860, something that task force member Chris Cody of the Historic Charleston Foundation calls problematic. An age requirement of 50 on properties serving as bed and breakfasts has been proposed by the task force.

"We had a previous conversation about having an age limit so as to disincentivize new construction built for the purpose of being a short-term renal. So we have to have some kind of age requirement so we don't see people building buildings in their backyard to use in this way," Cody said. "And 50 is the only number I've every heard us discuss."
click to enlarge Even though short-term rentals are illegal in much of the city, plenty of properties are still available downtown for Labor Day weekend next week. - AIRBNB SCREENSHOT
  • Airbnb screenshot
  • Even though short-term rentals are illegal in much of the city, plenty of properties are still available downtown for Labor Day weekend next week.
Stemming from the conversation on bed and breakfast rules came a discussion on what rules should govern those north of the Crosstown and in areas outside the peninsula who want to open their property up to short-term rentals.

The task force quickly agreed on city staff recommendations that short-term rental operators must apply for a business license with the city, as well as a short-term rental permit. As a part of the business license application process, operators would only be allowed to rent out their primary residence, as well as submit a site plan which designates the portions of their home to be rented. City staff recommends that operators meet minimum liability insurance requirements. The task force requested that city staff determine an appropriate minimum requirement to cover any potential risks to damage to property and personal injury.

As for the requirements for earning a short-term rental permit, this is where the main points of contention arose among members of the task force and city staff. City staff's recommendation that short-term rentals be limited to no more than four guests raised debate about whether or not children should be counted among the restriction on number of guests at one time. A straw poll among the task force showed a majority of support for limiting rentals to no more than four adults over the age of 18, allowing additional minors to accompany these adults.

The longest debate during Tuesday's meeting revolved around a staff recommendation that owners must be present on their property when the space is being rented. To qualify as a primary resident in Charleston County, owners can only be away from their property for 70 days a year. The city's current bed and breakfast ordinance does not specifically require owners be present when someone is renting their property, but they must reside in the property for at least half the year.

At the center of this discussion is the option of a designated agent, who would be tasked with managing a short-term rental property while the owner is absent. Of the 13 members of the task force who were present during Tuesday's meeting, eight voted in favor of requiring owners be present while renting to guests, which city staff indicated would help with enforcement efforts.

"The city needs simplicity in order to provide effective enforcement when we have issues that disrupt the quality of life. We like the simplicity and clarity of a single individual being responsible," said Jacob Lindsey with the city Planning Department.

Ultimately, the task force called on city staff to develop and present a few suggestions on how designated agents could be incorporated into the ordinance that the group hopes to finalize on Sept. 13. Meanwhile, Gabe Joseph cautioned his fellow task force members from being overly critical of short-term renters visiting the city.

"We never discuss the upside of short-term rentals, because there are a lot of downsides and there is the historic fabric of Charleston, rising rents, and all the rest of it. But there's something to be said for people coming into town and being able to stay in an old Charleston home as opposed to one of these ugly hotels, being able to walk around and being amongst the residential fabric of the neighborhood," said Joseph, who supports the option of allowing designated agents. "As long as we can regulate it properly, it's good for them. It's good for us. I mean, we're a hospitality city."

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