LIVE 5 INVESTIGATES: More than 1,000 illegal short-term rentals operating in Charleston

Short-term rentals have taken off in the last few years and despite the City of Charleston’s best efforts, thousands of illegal advertisements continue to pop u
Published: Dec. 16, 2022 at 4:32 PM EST|Updated: Dec. 19, 2022 at 8:33 PM EST
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Short-term rentals have taken off in the last few years and despite the City of Charleston’s best efforts, thousands of illegal advertisements continue to pop up.

“We had a very big uptick in complaints of transient people coming through their neighborhoods not knowing who they are on a regular basis,” Dan Riccio, director of livability and tourism in Charleston, said. “Loud parties, gatherings, parking, can’t park anywhere,” he added.

In 2018, the city established a task force and later an ordinance that laid out the rules. The location has to be the primary residence of the owner and occupied for 183 days of the year.

It can’t allow more than 4 guests, plus it has to be inspected by the Fire Marshall’s Office.

No permit number means there wasn’t an additional safety inspection.

“That’s the key component to having a permit process. You certainly don’t want to stay somewhere where you could die with your family right?” Riccio said.

Legitimate listings will have a permit number in the description of the location that’s available for rent for 30 days or less.

Listing description for a short-term rental in Charleston.
Listing description for a short-term rental in Charleston.(Live 5)

The city has spent the last four years focusing an effort to crackdown on these unpermitted locations.

“It’s a cat and mouse chase ... and they’ve become pretty good at it. But that’s an obstacle that we’ve learned to overcome,” Riccio said.

Currently there are 417 permitted short-stay rentals on the Peninsula, West Ashley, James, Johns and Daniel Islands combined.

But there are more than 1,000 sites operating improperly that the city is aware of.

That number fluctuates every day.

“People become very astute to, trying to skirt around the law. So often people will put their advertisements up during the day and take them down at night,” Riccio said.

Code enforcement officers Peter Buck and Cody Shealy spend all day, every day on the short-term rentals beat.

“Everything we do is documented,” Buck said.

Live 5 Investigates tagged along as they visited a location in downtown Charleston that’s been renting out without a permit. This particular address had been listed illegally before but was taken down. It’s since popped back up again.

In this case, the team has sent a courtesy cease-and-desist but to no avail. Repeat offenders are also a challenge to the ongoing efforts.

At the site, they look for lockboxes, out-of-state license plates, cleaning crews, piled up trash, anything that’s indicative of vacationers staying inside is fair game.

No one was home at the time of their visit, and if they can’t make contact with the owners or the listing agent a criminal summons is next.

In the last four years, the city has issued 593 citations and collected $443,518.00 in fines.

But before it gets to that point, the research starts at the office. Buck and Shealy use a software by Graticus to scrape the internet for relevant data, addresses, if the property has been rented out and more.

The city spends about $58,000 a year on the software.

The process has been refined over the years. But it’s still not perfect one.

“I wish I could say that there will be a point in time to where, we have none that are unpermitted. But is that real? That’s not reality. That’s why we invest in the tools that help us,” Riccio said.

There is no limit on the number of short-term rentals that there can be in the city.

There was concern these businesses limited affordable housing. The city estimates with these enforcement actions, about 268 homes have been returned to the housing market.