MT. PLEASANT, S.C. (WCBD) – The Town of Mt. Pleasant Planning Department is looking to make some changes to the town’s short-term rental (STR) ordinance.
Michele Reed, the town’s Planning Director, says the ordinance needs to be tightened up and language clarified after some issues have come up since it went into effect in January 2020.
“With any new ordinance or program, you notice the kinks, you notice things that need to be fixed or tightened up,” said Reed.
A few amendments have been made to the ordinance over the past few years and a few more could be made in the coming months.
One component that’s being looked at is the cap on short-term rental permits allotted in town.
The original ordinance capped STRs at 1% of the total dwelling units in the town making the cap right around 400. It was later amended to be 400 even.
However, Reed says the way the language in the amendment was written meant the cap had some wiggle room.
“It didn’t really cap at 400 hence why we have 437 right now,” said Reed. “So the emphasis for this amendment here recent was to kind of tighten the language on the cap and to open up the window for an early application process for current STR operators.”
The early application window proposed would be from November 15 to December 15. Current STR owners would have the opportunity to apply for their annual permit. Reed says if the owners have been following the rules, they’re pretty much guaranteed a permit.
Then, if there are any of the 400 allotted permits left over, the application window for new STR applicants will open.
“We noticed a trend in our software. We noticed that out of our 437 permits that we currently have, only about 350 are actually active,” said Reed.
Because of that, the planning commission started discussing a minimum booking level meaning STR owners would be required to rent their property for a certain amount of nights per year. But taking it one step further, the commission is now looking into a two-tiered approach to STR permits in town.
“If you rent between 20 days and 72 days and you’re taxed at 4%, that’s one type of permit. If you rent over 72 days, you’re taxed at 6%, that’s a second type of permit.”
The 400 permit cap would remain in place while accommodating the different goals of STR owners. Some only rent for a few weekends per year for festivals, holidays, and more while others book as many days as possible and use the STR as a main source of income.
Another possible change to the ordinance is raising the permit application fee for STR operators from $250 to $1,500. Reed says that was recommended by the planning commission based on the average price of an STR rental for one night in Mt. Pleasant which is $230.
But some town leaders think $1,500 is a little too steep.
“Out of the discussion came…that’s probably too high, number one and number two we only really want to raise it maybe for those that are doing the 6%, full time. Then if you’re going to be a 4% renter, if that ordinance gets adopted, maybe we would keep it at the $250,” said Reed.
Some short-term rental operators in town have some concerns about the proposed changes.
Mari Ricozzi and Laurie Bixler both own and operate STRs in Mt. Pleasant. They both have been vocal in town meetings about the proposed changes and instrumental in creating the original ordinance that went into effect in January 2020.
“We felt like we came up with an ordinance that worked for both sides,” said Ricozzi. “It was really a win-win.”
“A pandora’s box was opened when we short-term rental owners realized that instead of 400 short-term rentals in town, there were 437 due to the way the ordinance was written meaning everyone had to get grandfathered in after the fact.”
The possibility of a raised application fee is concerning to both rental owners.
“I think going from $250 to $1500 is very unusual,” said Bixler.
“I felt that the town had come up with a program that was working and I didn’t see the need to go in and make so many changes. If the town could tighten the cap that would be great,” said Ricozzi.
Ricozzi and Bixler hope the town will use the expertise of rental owners like them to create atask force dedicated to solving these problems efficiently.
“I would love them to bring us in to have a task force or a consultation so that we could participate in the actual working or creation because the more people that contribute, the better the ordinance would be,” said Bixler.
All of these ideas are still in discussion and a public hearing will be held on August 24th at 5 p.m. for people in town to share their thoughts before any decisions are made by town leaders.