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Short-Term Rental Regulations in Charleston Metropolitan Area

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In our last article, we detailed the key differences between single-family and multi-family property investments. While a well-rounded property portfolio will certainly have both, many first-time investors are stumped between which option is better. Single-family homes are lauded for their privacy, decreased tax burden, sustained resale value and relatively straightforward rental process. However, multi-family homes are actually considered safer investments, even though they require a larger amount of upfront capital. We compared the consistency of having multiple tenants with the aforementioned benefits of a single-family home, before delving into the downsides of each. Every investment is associated with some level of risk and reward. We want to make sure you have the tools to make the best decision for your future! That’s why you should give our most recent article a read!


Last year, we published another article comparing the pros and cons of long-term and short-term rentals. In this article, we briefly touched on the codes and regulations applicable to short-term rentals. Certain areas require short-term rental owners to apply for licenses, pay mandatory fees, or outright ban short-term rentals altogether. In today’s article we’ll be discussing the ordinances in place across the Charleston Metropolitan Area (which includes Charleston County, Berkeley County, and Dorchester County). If you plan on using your rental property as a short-term rental, you’ll want to heed these regulations. If you are currently considering investing in a short-term rental property, reading up on existing regulations might help make your choice a little easier. Since RPM Distinguished Care serves the Charleston community, we are well-versed in ensuring these regulations are met and the rental properties we manage operate within the boundaries of the law. If you’re interested in learning how, read on!


The Fight for Short-Term Rentals


Given the proliferation of Airbnb and other short-term vacation rental apps, it’s a wonder short-term rentals were not made legal in Charleston until July 10th, 2018. Prior to this ordinance being passed by the City Council, a fierce battle raged between proponents of short-term rentals and detractors. In the end, “the sharing economy that is being nationally embraced is a growing trend by the public to provide accommodations in their homes to travelers. City Council finds the provision of such types of accommodations can be beneficial under certain circumstances and, if properly regulated as short term rentals, provide a means of assisting property owners in keeping properties in good order and repair which, in turn, assists in stabilizing homeownership, maintaining property values and strengthening the economy of the City.” That said, even with the ordinance, the City Council imposed several hard-line rules which limit residents’ ability to rent out their homes for short-term stays. For example, residents are banned from renting out an entire home for the purpose of short-term rentals. Rather, homeowners are required to be present when renting out their home and no more than four guests are allowed at one time. (There are tiny technicalities to this rule. Such as, the owner need not be present for the entire duration of the stay, but a full-time resident must sleep in the home each night of the stay.)


Short-term rentals are generally considered to be thirty days or less. Hobbyists who are renting out their homes for a little extra income might be surprised to find they still need to apply for short-term rental licenses from the Department of Planning, Preservation, and Sustainability. These rental permits must be renewed annually and the application fee is a non-refundable $200 (not including a Fire Marshal review, inspection fee, and business license fee). To complete the application you’ll need to provide basic building information (i.e. number of smoke detectors, structural changes, site plans, photographs) and answer a number of questions to determine your property’s eligibility as a short-term rental. Now, homes which are not occupied full-time by their owner are considered ineligible. This means the owner is a resident of the property for at least 183 days of the year. You must agree to remain in the home overnight whenever guests are present. A few other commitments on the application are as follows:


  • I will keep in full force and effect during all times the STR is operated a general liability policy with a company authorized to do business in the State of South Carolina insuring against personal injury (including death) and property damage with limits of no less than $1,000,000.00 per occurrence,
  • The STR unit will not displace a residential dwelling unit which was occupied within one (1) year prior to the application (Category 1 only),
  • No meals other than breakfast will be served to paying guests, if meals are to be served by operator,
  • I must keep a guest register including names, addresses and dates of occupancy of all guests,
  • The portion of the premises used for the STR use may be inspected by City personnel on an annual basis to check for compliance with the Zoning Ordinance.
  • I am aware that if my property is qualified for the 4% Legal Residence exemption, the use of my property as an STR must be reported to the Assessor in writing within 6 months of the change in use or beginning of the use. Use of the property for an STR may result in the full or partial loss of the 4% Legal Residence exemption or may result in the denial of that exemption for pending applications.


All aspects of the Short Term Rental Ordinance are enforced. In reference to the “Category One”–the city has been split into three categories and one zone, each of which is held to different standards under the ordinance. Category one includes the Old and Historic District and only those properties listed on the National Register of Historic Places are eligible for short-term renting. Category two includes the entire peninsula (except the STR Overlay Zone). Only properties over fifty years old are eligible for short-term rent here. Category three includes the rest of the city of Charleston (e.g. West Ashley, James Island, John’s Island, Cainhoy, Daniel Island). A property of any age is eligible for short-term rent here. The STR Overlay Zone, which includes Cannonborough-Elliotborough, allows commercially-zoned properties to be eligible for Commercial Short-term Rental Permits. While short-term rentals are not allowed, Bed & Breakfast permits are.


In Mount Pleasant, those owning and operating a short-term rental must also have a business license. Those who are late reapplying for their permit will be required to pay a $100 fee. Those found to have been operating short-term rental prior to applying will be required to pay a $500 penalty fee (in addition to the application fee). You won’t need to provide a site plan, but proof of off-street parking is required. Only 1% of all dwelling units in Mount Pleasant are allowed to be short-term rentals and this equates to about 400 units. Right now, there are no limitations on renting out an entire house, a portion of a house, or an attachment.


Summerville’s regulations for short-term rentals are similar to Charleston’s, in that they require the owner to live at the property for at least 183 out of the year. However, like Mount Pleasant, entire dwellings can be rented. A business license is required, as well as “peaceful enjoyment by neighbors” (i.e. no noise disturbance, no parking problems, no odors, etc.). You’ll need insurance and records which show you’ve complied with the provisions of the ordinance with each renter (along with their name, the duration of their stay, the dates of their stay, etc.)


If you aren’t interested in investing in short-term rental property here in Charleston, what we’ve mentioned today will certainly be useful for ensuring you remain within the boundaries of the law and avoid paying unnecessary fees. Of course, there’s plenty more to know about these ordinances and we encourage you to read further. We’ll be revisiting this topic in the future. If you have specific questions, don’t hesitate to give us a call! At RPM Distinguished Care, we work alongside our clients for however long it takes to reach their unique goals. We levy every asset at our disposal, including over thirty years of experience and a dedicated team of individuals, to be of assistance. From tenant screening to leasing to inspections to marketing—there’s nothing we do not do. We believe in full-service and comprehensive property management. That’s why we take the time to understand each of our clients and help identify their most closely-held goals.  Use our website to request your free assessment and meet with our expert team! Thank you for taking the time to read this article and we hope to hear from you soon!

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