The fundamental character of our historic residential neighborhoods is under assault by illegal short- term rentals.
Under current zoning laws, short-term rentals are illegal in neighborhoods zoned only for residential use (except approved bed and breakfast rentals meeting certain requirements). Yet, with the advent of internet sites providing an easy way for booking, illegal short-term rentals have proliferated in our neighborhoods due to monetary incentives and the absence of rigorous enforcement by the city.
The undersigned residential neighborhood associations (representing residents of most historic neighborhoods) join to petition the city not to change the current zoning laws prohibiting short term rentals, except to increase the penalties and to enhance enforcement against those who choose to violate city zoning laws. Residents of our neighborhoods bought their properties and improved them in reliance on the neighborhoods being zoned primarily residential, not commercial. Our neighborhoods have a right to expect residential, not commercial uses, and certainly not illegal uses.
The owners illegally renting their property as short-term rentals bought their residentially zoned property with the full knowledge that commercial use, including short-term rentals, is illegal in Charleston’s neighborhoods. They knew or should have known that their zoning prohibited short-term rentals.
The unfairness of short term rentals to all other residents of the neighborhood was amply demonstrated again just recently when a house on Atlantic Street was rented for a college graduation celebration. From 50 to 100 young people had a three-day party spilling into the street lasting into the early morning hours.
The neighbors complained to them and ultimately to the police when two celebrants took a neighbor’s golf cart for a joy ride.
The property is owned by an out-of-state investment company in Illinois. Indeed, we believe that this owner has booked this property solidly for the next few months. Do owners such as this pay the business, license, property taxes and proper insurance that the owners of legal bed and breakfast rentals have to pay?
Our neighborhood associations have received frequent complaints about short-term rentals, including parking, noise, trash, rudeness, threatening behavior, indecent behavior, and loss of the quiet enjoyment of their property.
Our neighborhood associations are increasingly alarmed by the failure of the city to enforce its zoning laws prohibiting short-term rentals in our neighborhoods (and probably other neighborhoods in the city). Our residents are being denied the quiet enjoyment of their property and neighborhood by those flouting the city’s zoning laws.
Despite a number of neighbors providing proof not only of the rentals but the advertising of rentals, the city has dragged its heels in enforcing the laws. Even when the city sends a letter of warning, owners of illegal rentals often ignore these letters because the city has failed to prosecute violators in Charleston’s Livability Court to impose fines that should be levied. The fines are only a fraction of the illegal revenue obtained from short-term rentals.
By failing to enforce the short-term rental zoning laws, the city is in effect allowing neighborhoods that are zoned primarily as single-family residential to be converted into a commercial, but unregulated, hotel district. Residents who purchased and maintained their residences on the basis of the neighborhood being zoned single-family residential are being deprived of their zoning rights and subjected to the disruption, noise, nuisances, and loss of parking that comes with many of these short-term renters.
In summary, we oppose any change in the existing zoning laws prohibiting short-term rentals, except to stiffen the penalties and enhance the enforcement capabilities of the city. Vigorous enforcement by the city is required to protect the livability of historic neighborhoods and the preservation of unique areas so important to our local economy and the nation as a whole.
BY GINNY BUSH and RANDY PELZER
Ginny Bush is president of the Charlestowne Neighborhood Association. Randy Pelzer is vice president. The neighborhood associations of Ansonborough, Cannonborough-Elliottborough, French Quarter and Harleston Village signed on to this op-ed.