Are short-term rentals really bad for Charleston? 

Focus Should Be on Consistent Enforcement, Not Curtailing Property Rights

Is there really any proof that short-term renters are noisier, messier, or more disruptive to a neighborhood than long-term tenants? If there was, there would be clear justification for banning Airbnb and other short-term rental services on the Charleston peninsula. If there isn't, then it's difficult to fathom why downtown property owners would have the absolute right to rent out their properties for longer periods of time, but not for shorter ones, or how short-term rentals would be allowed in some Charleston neighborhoods but not others.

The City of Charleston recently concluded four listening sessions which revealed that Charleston residents are generally in favor of allowing homeowners to rent out their homes for short time periods through online services such as Airbnb. Some preservation groups and neighborhood residents want the city to expand these listening sessions further, claiming that there is more opposition to short-term rentals than the listening sessions have shown. It is easy to see why the hotel industry would be against short-term rentals, but less clear is why some property owners are against their neighbors' ability to rent out their homes in this manner.

The reason most frequently posited is that short-term renters are more likely to be disruptive to their neighbors since they don't know them and are not part of the neighborhood community. Because renters don't have to live with these neighbors long-term, they can be as disrespectful and noisy as they want to be without repercussion. Unfortunately, the facts do not bear out these claims. Services like Airbnb and VRBO have rating systems which penalize tenants or owners for violating rules or causing problems with neighbors. Repeated violations can lead to an inability to rent properties in the future.

Additionally, the same noise ordinances which apply to long-term tenants and homeowners apply equally to short-term rentals. To the extent a property owner or his/her tenants violate city ordinances repeatedly, they can be fined heavily or even face jail time. The City of Charleston has even formed the Livability Court to efficiently handle recurring problems of this nature.

If noise, traffic, and pollution are the true concerns of those against short-term property rentals in the city, then the focus should be on strengthening the enforcement mechanisms which address these issues, not on curtailing homeowners property rights. To someone who inherited a property in the city that has appreciated in value and costs thousands to maintain, the extra income from short-term rentals may be a godsend. For others, it may be the only way they are able to pay their taxes, mortgage, or insurance payments. If these owners can screen tenants so that their neighbors are not adversely impacted by noise, there really is no reason to prevent them from exercising this important benefit of property ownership.

If noise and traffic are not the true culprits, and the efforts against short-term rentals are really a form of economic snobbery or classism, then the false arguments against keeping these services legal in the city should be debunked in short order. Short-term rentals may be distasteful to some, but they are an economic boon to both homeowners and many vacationing travelers. Just because someone doesn't take advantage of these services does not mean they should begrudge their neighbors' ability to do the same.


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