For the past 16 months, Matthew Doszkocs has been working to change the city’s rules on short-term rentals. Now he may be closer than ever to seeing his efforts pay off.
With Mayor John Tecklenburg taking office at City Hall comes a renewed interest in examining Charleston’s laws restricting short-term rentals. In the past, Tecklenburg has spoken out in favor of finding a responsible way for citizens to take advantage of new platforms, such as Uber and Airbnb, to benefit from the “sharing economy.” Last year, his wife was found in violation of the city’s short-term rental policy. The mayor’s office is currently assembling a citizen-led committee to examine the prospects of expanding Charleston’s marketplace for legal short-term rentals beyond its current boundaries.
The city’s current zoning regulations prohibit rentals of fewer than 30 days with the exception of a portion of the Cannonborough-Elliotborough neighborhood. A quick look at Airbnb’s listing’s for available rentals in Charleston shows dozens of options across the peninsula with prices ranging from $49 to $599 per night. For Doszkocs, the idea of allowing short-term rentals throughout the city creates an opportunity for homeowners to benefit from the area’s booming tourism industry and spread the wealth.
“It’s grassroots, sustainable economic growth through a variety of neighborhoods instead of just focusing all the tourism dollars in a certain small area downtown. It spreads it out,” says Doszkocs, who has launched an online petition to rally support. “Another nice thing about homes is they can become boarding houses, support individual homeowners with affordable housing and income, and then if the economy slowed down and we didn’t have visitors for whatever reason, it goes back to being a house, not an abandoned skyscraper. Detroit and all these urban areas, economies go through changes. Abandoned rail lines become rails-to-trails for bicyclists and pedestrians, but what happens to a hotel?”
While the city’s efforts to gather a consensus is in its early stages, some proponents of short-term rentals have already taken steps to draft a proposed ordinance for officials to use as a starting point.
“Talking to city staff under Mayor Riley’s watch, there was really no appetite from Mayor Riley down that there needed to be a change in short-term rentals. The city staff and city employees’ biggest complaint was ‘We don’t even have time to enforce the current ordinance, much less look at changing it,” says Denise Holtz, founder of the South Carolina Vacation Rental Managers Association. “As a group we decided maybe the way we head this off at the pass was to write a new ordinance for them. So we raised the money as a group and hired an attorney to write it for us.”
The proposed ordinance recognizes two types of short-term residential uses: owner occupied and manager managed. Conditions for owner-occupied properties require that they be each applicant’s primary residence and prohibits signage, loss of parking, and 10 or more rentals on any one parcel. Rental properties that do not serve as the owner’s main residence would receive a higher level of scrutiny and require approval from the Board of Zoning Appeals. Renters in both categories would be required to pay the necessary taxes and fees, as well as apply for a business license. Although the ordinance is meant to serve merely as a jumping-off point for city officials, it could be the first step in a significant policy shift.
“We’ve created a situation in Charleston where honest, hard-working people — good citizens who want to participate in this tried-and-true traditional model that’s safe and effective on so many levels — and turns them into criminals,” says Doszkocs. “How does that feel, and do we want to do that? No, I don’t think we do.”
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