Claire Haines file photo
Cannonborough-Elliottborough was recently home to Charleston's only legally-allowed short-term rentals.
Charleston City Council opened the doors to short-term rentals throughout the city Tuesday night, after more than a year of packed meetings and emotional pleas from preservationists, vacation rental lobbyists, and short-term rental hosts about how to best regulate the booming industry.
Anyone wishing to operate a short-term rental must first get a license from the city's Department of Planning, Preservation, and Sustainability. There will be a 90-day grace to allow the city's enforcement plans to kick into gear.
Whole-house rentals are completely banned under the ordinance passed last night, and no more than four adults can occupy a STR at once. Homes not occupied by full-time owners, as determined by their property tax assessment, are not eligible for STR licensing.
The rules for STR properties in the different classes — now called "categories" after the terminology was questioned as possibly discriminatory by multiple residents — are as follows:
- Category 1, the Old and Historic District, only allows properties in the National Register of Historic Places.
- Category 2, the rest of the peninsula, establishes a 50-year property age requirement.
- Category 3, the rest of the city, has no property age limit.
The new rules are largely based on proposals by the Short-Term Rental Task Force, a group assembled by Mayor Tecklenburg and Council that first met in November 2016. Their recommendations were then loosened by the Planning Commission, though a barrage of citizen complaints at a Council meeting in February
forced Council to return to the Task Force's proposals.
Short-term rentals were illegal in most parts of the city until April 2018, but some homeowners risked fines by offering their homes up on sites like Airbnb anyway.
"I bought a home in a neighborhood and I should have the same right as any home owner, said Soreya Kennedy, who owns a home in the peninsula that is not eligible under the approved rules. "The age of my house has nothing to do with the suitability to be rented out long term or short-term. I'm just exhausted with this whole thing."
Livability and tourism director Dan Riccio said the city is still working on what software it will use to monitor short-term rental listings on websites and apps like Airbnb and HomeAway, though the city has hired three people to serve as full-time STR enforcement officers.
Mayor Tecklenburg, who told the city's Planning Commission that the debate over the rules had been "long enough" two months ago
, appeared eager to move on and test the ordinance as it had been revised.
"Lets get going with something so that we got a system in place that we can then refine and improve, and we’ll find out as we go that we need to make some changes to it," he said.
Not everyone was convinced of the timing.
Councilmen James Lewis and Robert Mitchell were worried that the appropriate enforcement plans were not in place. So far, the city has only been able to successful prosecute 77 short-term rental violations. Commercially-zoned properties in Cannonborough-Elliotborough were the only places where short-term rentals were legally allowed as of last night.
"We’re gonna open up an entire city," Lewis said. "You got three people, and you’re gonna tell me that you’re gonna be able to track this stuff?"
Council members William Dudley Gregorie and Keith Waring were specifically moved by a Post & Courier article
about a woman who rents out an inherited family property in James Island, in part, to afford its maintenance.
Council agreed to introduce a list of special exemptions to address the issue by the end of May.
In response to last night's decision, HomeAway released a statement expressing disappointment with the prohibition of non-owner occupied homes from the short-term marketplace.
"We are disappointed that City Council adopted an ordinance even they admit is unenforceable and riddled with flaws," the company said.