October 31, 2019
Mayor Weaver Addresses Short-Term Rental Ordinance Revisions
Next week the Town Council will consider the revised short-term rental ordinance for final approval. Short-term rentals are an important part of the island’s economy, comprising over one-third of our properties. The majority of overnight visitors are generated through short-term rentals. They introduce future homeowners to the island and enable some property owners to make Kiawah their second home. Short-term rentals can also detract from the community. When not managed responsibly, they can detract from the quality of life for surrounding property owners. Concentrations of rental properties, regardless of how they are managed, can alter the overall character of neighborhoods.
The ordinance supports two distinct goals. The first is to regulate the operation of short-term rentals and provide more responsive enforcement of those regulations. The second is to preserve the residential character of the Kiawah’s single-family, residential neighborhoods. Establishing regulations that balance and satisfy the interests of everyone is difficult and probably not achievable. Over time, as the interests, ownership, and character of Kiawah change, I would expect these regulations to evolve as well, and future Town Councils will need to be open to making changes. My comments that follow describe the objectives of this ordinance and some next actions
The ordinance ensures that rental properties are maintained and operated safely and do not adversely affect other property owners. It addresses the elements of rentals that most commonly affect public safety or impact neighbors and the community, such as overcrowding and parking, but does not overreach by establishing regulations that add little benefit or are not enforceable. It also establishes standards for the operation of rental homes and expectations for renters to keep rental properties more consistent with Kiawah’s brand and the character of the neighborhoods in which they reside.
It does not add new regulatory burdens on rental property owners. Short-term rentals continue to require a business license, which allows the Town to enforce its regulations and provides rental owners and rental management firms with a fair, level playing field where all owners are held to the same requirements and expectations. One new fee has been added, set only at a level that offsets the actual costs incurred by the Town for regulation and enforcement.
Finally, the ordinance establishes more serious and enforceable penalties for problem renters and property owners, holds rental owners and rental managers jointly responsible for conforming to these regulations and providing oversight to their renters, yet ensures that enforcement is managed within a framework of due process.
Most owners of short-term rental properties want to operate their businesses responsibly, offer a good experience to their renters, and not infringe on their neighbors. But it does not always work out that way, and when it hasn’t, neither the Town nor other island entities have been effective in enforcing our rental regulations. The Town will alter its approach, expand its enforcement resources, and collaborate more closely with rental owners and managers to identify and resolve renter problems.
Dealing with a disruptive rental property can be a difficult and often confusing process for property owners, leaving those affected feeling that they have little control. The Town, community association, and law enforcement will better coordinate our enforcement activities and clarify our respective roles to be more responsive. The Town will take on a stronger code enforcement role, add additional code enforcement officers and expand hours into the evening.
We also need to provide property owners with information about the rental properties in their immediate neighborhood. In December, we will roll out an easily accessible database that will allow any property owner to view information about the rental homes nearby, including the permitted occupancy and parking and required contact information. We will also be evaluating online tools that will allow residents to easily notify the Town about problem rentals they experience with nearby rentals and for the Town to track that information.
Short-term Rental Limits (Caps)
The proposed 20% “cap” has generated considerable discussion and some confusion about who is potentially affected and how it works. A couple of clarifying points:
- The cap is not intended to, nor does it eliminate or reduce the number of short-term rental properties on Kiawah. As proposed, it allows for as much as a 60% increase in new short-term rental properties in the areas covered by the cap. Based on recent real estate transactions, new licenses will not be restricted by the cap for some number of years.
- The cap covers only the Town’s R-1 and certain R-2 zoned properties. No multi-family property (villa, condominium, townhome) is impacted. If you are unsure whether your home or rental is affected, please call the Town or reference the map on the Town website.
The inclusion of a cap in the ordinance is influenced by several considerations. Most importantly, Kiawah has always had a dual identity as a resort, a residential community, and parts of Kiawah were always intended to have a “stable residential character.” That premise is not new; it has been explicitly incorporated in the Town’s Comprehensive Plan and zoning laws since the inception of the Town and reflected in the brand identity of the community. Many property owners have purchased property or made decisions to live here full or part-time with that expectation. Just as the Town would not be justified in limiting short-term rentals in areas where they have always been a predominant property use, it is appropriate to help preserve that residential character where short-term rentals are not the predominant or intended property use.
The Town also has an obligation to ensure that short-term rentals do not diminish the right of others to the full use and enjoyment of their property and the protection of their property values. Although that can partially be addressed by enforcement of rental regulations, enforcement is not a complete or adequate solution. No matter how well managed, growing concentrations of high-occupancy, multi-family rentals are more likely to adversely affect the surrounding neighborhood.
Lastly, the Town has consistently emphasized the importance of preserving Kiawah’s unique brand and character and believes it is important and in the public interest to retain and continue to attract a diverse mix of property ownership.
Many communities are dealing with short-term rentals, especially as new rental platforms enter the short-term residential rental market. They are applying a variety of measures including caps, bans and other measures. A cap is an approach that can preserve a balance between rental and non-rental properties. It will allow for additional rental properties significantly above our current numbers so that no existing rental property is impacted. At this level, the community will also have considerable time before new rentals might be limited, allowing the Town, property owners and real estate professionals to further evaluate their impact on the community.
One similarity between Kiawah and other communities is that the residents in each hold widely divided views about short-term rentals. I continue to support incorporating the caps into this ordinance, and many property owners do as well. Yet I fully acknowledge that others do not see it the same way. Whichever way the Town Council decides about this provision, some property owners will be pleased, and others dissatisfied or disappointed.
At next week’s council meeting, I will propose that the Town engage an independent firm to study Kiawah’s property values and trends, market position, and brand positioning. The aim is to better understand our current experience and evaluate actions that the community – property owners, the Town, and major entities like KP, KIGR, and KICA – can take to ensure that Kiawah experiences growing property values and remains an outstanding place to own property and live or invest.
Why initiate this study? The impact of a cap on property values has been hotly debated. Most opposing the caps are concerned that they will reduce property values by removing buyers. Those supporting the caps worry about the compounding effect of rentals on the character of the island or their neighborhood, their quality of life and enjoyment of their home. Many supporting the cap are also concerned that an increasing concentration of rental properties will eventually depress their property values. The opinions on both sides of this debate are strongly held, and the Town has not uncovered any compelling evidence or data to support or refute either view.
That discussion has highlighted an already existing concern about property values in general and raised questions about how the island’s resort and residential communities should evolve and what can be done to ensure that Kiawah experiences strong property values. While the Town will sponsor and fund the study, I will ask for the support and involvement of a cross-section of the community, including the community association, our major developers and real estate firms and property owners. The scope of this study is not specifically focused on caps or short-term rentals, but no issue related to property values will be off-limits.
* * *
I have received many comments about this proposal, as have the Town’s council members and staff. I have always tried to respond to every email and phone call, but in this instance that has not been always possible. I assure you that the council members have read every email and followed every conversation in the community as best we can, as well as talked individually with many property owners. We thank you for expressing your opinions, providing your ideas and solutions, and contributing your time to help us with this issue.
Mayor, Town of Kiawah Island
Residents and property owners have three ways to provide input:
- Write an email or letter which will be sent to Town Council members and included in the public record. Comments can be emailed to email@example.com.
- Call and speak with the Town Administrator, Stephanie Tillerson at 843-768-5103.
- Attend the Town Council meeting on November 5 at 2:00 p.m. and provide comments to Town Council.
If you have questions about any provision in the ordinance, please call or email Stephanie Tillerson, Town Administrator, at 843-768-5103 or firstname.lastname@example.org.