Disagreements continue over how to best regulate and police short-term rentals

The task force's rules prove a little uptight for the commission

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L-R: Short Term Rental Task Force members Christopher Cody, Ann Hester Willis, Angela Black Drake and Bob Siedler await the start of a Nov. 8 joint meeting with the Planning Commission. - ADAM MANNO
  • Adam Manno
  • L-R: Short Term Rental Task Force members Christopher Cody, Ann Hester Willis, Angela Black Drake and Bob Siedler await the start of a Nov. 8 joint meeting with the Planning Commission.
A joint session of the Planning Commission and Short Term Rental Task Force underlined the continuing chasm between members of both bodies on how to best regulate short-term rentals.

The Wednesday afternoon forum was the first formal meeting between members of both bodies.

Mayor John Tecklenberg kicked off the meeting by treading carefully and acquiescing to the views of both groups, which have clashed in the past.

"We certainly want to respect the property rights of people who own their home," Tecklenberg said. "Our tourism economy is so strong that I fear over the long haul...whole neighborhoods could become Airbnb property."

The most vocal disagreements came courtesy of the task force recommendation that homes in Charleston be at least 50 years old in order to qualify for short-term rental permits. The ability to enforce the rules put forth by the task force was also heavily questioned.

"Are we really going to knock on people’s doors?" asked commission member Chris Fraser to a round of laughter from the public.

Jacob Lindsey, Charleston's director of planning, preservation and sustainability, stood by the task force's recommendations by stressing that as of right now, all short-term rentals outside of Cannonborough-Elliotborough are illegal. He defended the 50-year rule as a national standard for historic structures and said that owners of such structures need the additional income to maintain their homes.

"Unlike other cities, everything we do related to tourism is to further the preservation goals of the city," Lindsey said. "The maintenance of a historic structure can be expensive. The burden of owning that structure is a big deal."

"Setting an age limit is arbitrary and somewhat elitist," said Roshanda Grant of the South Carolina Vacation Rental Managers Association. "In a city like Charleston, a home of a certain age is directly tied to the amount of money that individual has when they owned it. I think it's not an equitable law."

A main reason for limiting the number of permitted short-term rental units is the fear that an explosion in Airbnb availability could "hollow out" certain neighborhoods. A recent article by the Huffington Post in partnership with The Lens details how historic neighborhoods like Treme and Bywater in New Orleans have changed because of the demand for short term rental services. Residents are being pushed out in favor of tourists who sometimes shell out up to $250 per night, and some developers are even promoting the ability to rent out your home in sales pitches to potential buyers.

Members of the Short Term Rental Task Force, which has been working on recommendations for the commission for a year, often vacillated between wanting to diminish the number of short term rentals and wanting to expand it.

Grant, the rental property advocate, posited that restricting short term rentals to certain districts, or to homes of a certain age, would just cause a short term rental boom in the allowed neighborhoods.

Other points of contention included the task force's proposal that rentals be limited to four adults. Some members of the Planning Commission pointed out that under such rules, they would not be able to take their own families on vacation.

Commission member Ravi Sanyal pointed out that the rules would leave many in West Ashley and James Island unable to rent their homes out as they please. Additionally, commission member Sunday Lempesis emphasized that Airbnbs are necessary to combat the skyrocketing prices of hotels.

The Planning Commission agreed to a special meeting on Dec. 4 in order to hash out a more inclusive strategy ahead of the planned Dec. 20 meeting.

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