by Paul Bowers
Some residents of Charleston's North Central neighborhood are seeking an exception from the city's ban on short-term housing rentals via sites like Airbnb and VRBO.
Under an ordinance passed in 2012, homeowners in most parts of the city are forbidden from renting out residential properties for periods of less than 30 days at a time — although, as a cursory glance of Airbnb listings in the area will reveal, dozens of homeowners are ignoring the rule and risking a $1,092 fine by offering rooms in their homes to visitors.
Under the lone exception to the city ordinance, residents of certain parts of Cannonborough-Elliottborough are allowed to offer short-term rentals, but they must apply for a business license and their properties must be zoned for commercial use. The city granted the exception after residents spent four years petitioning city officials to allow Airbnb in their neighborhood.
North Central resident Matt Doszkocs says he approached the city's planning department about the possibility of making another exception for his neighborhood several months ago. "I was told that going to my neighborhood association would be the way to go," Doszkocs says.
So Doszkocs and some other residents started canvassing the neighborhood, which is bounded by Rutledge Avenue to the west, I-26 to the east, Congress Street to the south, and Mt. Pleasant Street to the north. He gathered about 150 signatures on a petition for the exception, and the North Central Neighborhood Association held a forum Aug. 22 for residents to discuss the idea of allowing short-term rentals.
Charlie Letts, a member of the neighborhood association's executive board, says the opinions expressed at the meeting were mostly favorable. The executive board is scheduled to vote tonight on whether to draft a letter to city officials requesting an exception to the short-term rental ban.
According to Letts, some residents expressed concerns about absentee investors buying up properties solely for the purpose of offering Airbnb rentals, so any proposed ordinance would likely include a requirement that the rental units must be owner-occupied. Other residents have asked that homeowners only be allowed to rent out their rooms for about 180 nights per year to prevent year-round rentals.
"We don't want to kick out long-term renters," Letts says. "It's mostly for elderly residents that have a four-bedroom home and they're the only ones living there, that they might need some extra income to pay their taxes or help do some home repairs."
If the neighborhood association presents a request to the city, it would have to be approved by City Council before becoming law.