City officials cracking down on short-term rentals downtown

By Stacy Jacobson{}{}{}

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) -- A law banning rentals for less than 30 days in the city of Charleston has existed for years. But recently, the popularity of online-booking websites like airbnb and VRBO has made city officials crack down on the ordinance, they said.

The websites can offer cheaper lodging than hotels and accessibility to homeowners, but can make neighborhoods less personal.

The vacation possibilities are seemingly endless on online-booking websites; when ABC News 4 logged in to airbnb to look for a one-night rental on a summer Friday night, the website showed 63 results in Charleston, many of which were downtown.

VRBO and airbnb allow people to advertise rooms or their entire homes. Visitors can book per night. Listed prices can be less than hotels, but more than what owners would get from a year-long lease.

"I was managing to supplement my social security with these checks," said Christine Castaeda, who used to rent out her downtown condo.

We reached Castaeda at her other home in New York. She said she stopped renting out her condo a week ago when she found out the city was cracking down.

She felt the city was intruding on her rights.

"I own my place! It's in the sanctity of my home. And we're bringing people in," Castaeda said.

But city law restricts people from renting out a property for less than 30 days.

"We are concentrating on enforcement of this ordinance right now because we're concerned," said Tim Keane, director of planning, preservation and sustainability.

Part-time visitors can be a long-term risk, officials said.

"This commercial incursion in to residential areas of the city can have a negative impact on the livability downtown," said Winslow Hastie, chief preservation officer of the Historic Charleston Foundation.

"There can be issues about noise, parties and trash," Keane said. "Parking issues are associated and people bring multiple vehicles. Another side of it is we need rental units downtown for full time people."

Several people in the Radcliffeborough neighborhood said the part-time visitors didn't bother them, as long as it didn't get out of control. But that was exactly what city officials feared.

"What you can end up with is proliferation. Soon a neighborhood can be dominated by that. These are neighborhoods where we encourage and expect people will live full time," Keane said.

According to records released by the city, code enforcement officers had given out 20 citations so far in 2014. Most were still pending in court, though several people had been fined up to $1,000.

To avoid a fine, Castaeda changed her listing to a minimum of 30 days. But, she said the city should go after the websites instead of the homeowners.

The Cannonborough and Elliotborough neighborhoods are exceptions to the law. At the request of homeowners there, residents are allowed to rent to short-term visitors.