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Vacation rentals taking over your Beaufort neighborhood? Here’s how the city keeps track

Beaufort couple renovates historic homes for short-term rentals

John and Erica Dickerson talk about the process of renovating the Sarah Gibbes Barnwell House in Downtown Beaufort. The Dickersons use the historic home as a short-term rental home.
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John and Erica Dickerson talk about the process of renovating the Sarah Gibbes Barnwell House in Downtown Beaufort. The Dickersons use the historic home as a short-term rental home.

Last year, a Beaufort man who had been renting out a room of his Mossy Oaks home on multiple vacation rental websites received a letter from the city.

He was not properly permitted to operate such a rental, and needed to pay a $1,000 application fee to stay in compliance, the letter said. Brantley Wilson appealed the fee to City Council in July, meeting minutes show, pleading ignorance and asking for a chance to pay only the $100 fee required of those who apply for the permit at the outset.

His appeal was denied. Officials cited a months-long process to overhaul its rules for the rentals as the practice grew in popularity and the need to crack down on those who welcomed overnight guests without paying the same fees required of the local hotel industry. The city also established a ceiling for how many of the short-term rentals — those offering stays of fewer than 30 days — could operate in a certain area.

The new enforcement system was in response to the growing popularity of vacation rentals in the area.

Visitors are opting to book stays in spacious homes that rival the price of local hotels and real estate investors are cashing in on the high returns such rentals offer. Residents are wary of the effect of the rentals on their neighborhoods, an issue not unique to this area.

Tourists and thousands of family members who flock to the area each year to watch new Marines graduate drive demand.

A Beaufort panel spent months drafting recommendations for new rules later implemented to regulate the rentals.

Now Port Royal is forming its own task force to consider the issue in the growing town.

To better regulate those listing their homes or rooms on popular vacation rental sites, Beaufort turned to a special software program that identifies local rentals operating without proper permits.

From his office at City Hall this week, business license inspector Justin Rose examined a map of Beaufort on his computer monitor showing glowing dots pinpointing rentals throughout the city listed on popular sites like Airbnb and HomeAway — green dots for permitted rentals and red dots showing buildings not yet compliant.

There are 88 vacation rentals operating with proper licenses in the city. Host Compliance, the company Beaufort began contracting with last year for enforcement, identified 23 rentals operating illegally.

When a rental is found to be operating outside the rules, Host Compliance sends the owner a form letter from Rose. City business license and codes staff previously had to manually scour sites like Airbnb and Home Away for potential violators, print out listings and drive around searching for the buildings that matched the photos online.

“It was very tedious,” Rose said. “You could be on there all day.”

Of those listings found to be illegal, nine fell in line with the rules, others stopped operating and five remain unlicensed. The crackdown has more than covered the $8,000 the city paid Host Compliance last year, according to numbers Rose provided.

The city has collected $9,450 in additional application fees, $765 in business license fees and another $3,200 in local taxes on overnight stays.

In Port Royal, the town is set to consider its rules related to short-term rentals as the number of listings grow.

More than 30 people volunteered for a task force of nine or more members that will be appointed this week to study the issue. Vacation rental operators in Port Royal are currently required to hold a business license and pay local bed taxes.

Permits can be suspended if operators are dinged with enough code violations for breaking rules related to noise, parking, disorderly conduct and cleanliness during a set time period.

A local hospitality group has encouraged the town to use a similar system such as Host Compliance to track its rentals.

Ninety-six vacation rentals are operating in the town, Beaufort Area Hospitality Association director Lise Sundrla said.

Residents say the rentals are spreading in the town’s Old Village area, with its quaint cottages and townhomes and walkable street grid convenient to nearby Marine Corps Recruit Depot Paris Island and the base’s regular recruit graduations that bring thousands of out-of-town visitors.

“I think short term rentals are fine. They are a needed thing in this community, but there has to be a balance,” a resident told Port Royal Town Council at a recent meeting.

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