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City files suit against homeowner over short-term rentals

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The city of Charleston has filed suit against the owner of 4 Atlantic St. in downtown Charleston alleging the homeowner violated the city’s short-term rental zoning ordinance, court documents show.

Under current law, short-term rentals are allowed only in an overlay zone within the Cannonborough-Elliotborough neighborhood. The city does now allow short-term rentals — defined as rentals of fewer than 30 days — elsewhere in the city.

The home in question sits near White Point Garden, in the South of Broad neighborhood. The city filed suit against Putters Investments LLC, the Illinois-based owner listed on county GIS records, in the Court of Common Pleas for Charleston County.

“The city is seeking a declaratory judgment that the site is being used as an illegal short-term rental, along with an injunction to prevent any further unlawful use of the property,” city spokesman Jack O’Toole said in a news release.

The home has been rented from January through May, according to court documents. Affidavits from several neighbors said many renters use the house for all-night parties, causing noise, light and litter issues in the neighborhood, documents show.

The lawsuit states that the owner’s violation of the short-term rental zoning ordinance “erodes the general culture of the surrounding residential neighborhood by substituting relatively permanent residents who share a vested interest in maintaining community relationships, with transient guests who do not.”

The debate about whether to legalize short-term rentals in Charleston has endured for several years as sites like Airbnb, VRBO or HomeAway have risen in popularity. More than 300 homes the Charleston area are currently listed on Airbnb, despite the practice being illegal in the city. Some short-term rental hosts have been sued by other entities or fined by the city.

The city created an 18-member task force last summer to study the issues and concerns surrounding regulation of short-term rentals.

Proponents say homeowners have the right to use their homes as they wish, and many residents have said they need the extra income in a city with a rising cost of living and stagnant wages. Many Airbnb hosts in Charleston have said their experiences with renters have been positive.

Opponents say it could hurt the booming hotel and tourist industry or hinder neighborhood quality of life with noisy or disrespectful renters. Others say homes should not operate as hotels.

The committee will eventually make a recommendation to Charleston City Council, which will then vote on the legality of short-term rentals in Charleston.

Reach Liz Segrist at 843-849-3119.

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