Short-term rental law ready to be put on books

July 15, 2011 

No one can accuse Beaufort City Council of rushing a decision on short-term rentals in residential areas: The issue was debated for about a year before an ordinance passed its first vote Tuesday.

Because those living near rental properties run the risk of diminished enjoyment of their own property, the proposal deserved such deliberation. But with the economy still flagging and some owners looking for ways to use their property to generate income, it's time for this proposal to get a second vote to become law.

It would allow owners to rent their homes for less than 30 days in nearly all residential districts if they receive special approval. The exceptions would be granted by the city's Zoning Board of Appeals and would be determined case by case. The ordinance also would allow short-term rentals in accessory dwelling units where the owner lives on the premises. But those would not require a special exception and could be approved by city staff.

Each short-term rental owner would have to meet certain standards outlined in the ordinance, such as requiring a minimum two-night stay, providing adequate on-site parking and developing a property management plan, among other things.

The proposed ordinance does not apply to planned communities where neighborhood covenants prohibit short-term rentals, or in The Point neighborhood.

It's very likely this plan will prove imperfect. First, there are questions about the equity of making The Point neighborhood off limits to such rentals.

Second, it remains to be seen how the zoning board and city staff will apply the standards. Or if the benefit to those renting out their property will be outweighed by the inconvenience to their neighbors.

That said, allowing short-term rentals by exception only and setting rules for those who receive permission could prevent short-term rentals from proliferating faster than the problems they present can be solved.

And if the worst fears of those who oppose this measure come to fruition, it shouldn't take a year to repeal the ordinance.

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