Lawsuit claims Charleston’s short-term rental law is unconstitutional

Lawsuit claims Charleston’s short-term rental law is unconstitutional
A lawsuit filed against the city of Charleston seeks to have its short-term rental ordinance declared unconstitutional.

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - A Charleston man filed a lawsuit against the city of Charleston alleging the city’s 2018 ordinance allowing homeowners to rent rooms to the public is unfair and should be struck down.

Charleston resident Marvin Wilson filed the suit in response to the city’s short term rental ordinance, which was passed on April 10, 2018. Wilson said he was cited for violating the ordinance unjustly and says the law itself is unconstitutional.

The lawsuit states city council members and Charleston Planning Commission employees expressed doubts about a part of the law that requires homes in the Old and Historic Districts to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places as a condition of being granted a permit. City council, the suit states, unanimously approved a motion directing the planning department to develop rules for special exceptions to address the National Register requirement, but that this still has not happened.

The city, the suit states, has no input or control over which properties are added to the register. That requirement, Wilson says, is unconstitutional because it “fails to furnish a uniform rule of action applicable to all citizens.”

Wilson’s Alexander Street home is on the eastern border of the Old and Historic District, which means his home should not be part of the requirement to be on the register. But the lawsuit states he was cited for violating the ordinance when he rented the upper unit of his home despite his home meeting all of the remaining requirements of the law.

The suit the city could not sufficiently issue permits to homeowners who applied for short term rentals and that the internet link for permit applications did not work.

“Even the email address provided to citizens to inquire or submit questions was inoperable,” the suit states. “As a result, many citizens who would otherwise have been entitled to permits were unable to obtain them prior to the publicized date on which the ordinance would be enforced.”

The suit claims that as of Feb. 7, authorities issued 83 summons for violation of the short-term rental ordinance, some of whom Wilson believes were issued to people who would be eligible except for the register requirement or whose homes were on the register but didn’t receive their permit because the city’s application system could not handle the number of permits.

The suit seeks a court order to stop enforcement of the ordinance and prosecution of any of the summonses issued to homeowners who would qualify if their home were on the National Register or for those who did qualify, did apply, but did not receive the actual permit.

The suit also asks the court to declare the ordinance unconstitutional, unlawful and that the city be forced to issue a permit to Wilson, plus pay for legal fees.

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