Conway City Council agreed to defer a vote on short-term rentals, including Airbnb, Home Away and Vacation Rental by Owner (VRBO) after several council members questioned its necessity and some of its provisions.
The bill was passed through council’s Planning and Redevelopment Committee without a vote in October and the city’s Planning Commission okayed it in November, but it won’t get a vote from council until the group’s first meeting in January.
Putting off a decision was recommended by Councilman Tom Anderson, who pointed out that he is about to leave council and two new members will be seated in January. Also Councilman Larry White was absent Monday night. Anderson suggested that the issue needed a new and full council for a vote.
Before council began its discussion, Wild Wing resident Barbara Eisenhardt told council that she had recently stayed in an Airbnb out of town and it was a horrible experience. She said what was supposed to be a three-bedroom house turned out to be an auxiliary building with boarded-up windows, no closets and no way out in case of emergency.
She said she is sure that there are good and bad Airbnb rentals, but she worried about how council would be able to handle the issue.
Planner Jessica Hucks said accessory structures aren’t allowed under Conway’s proposal and that residents must be there while renters are there.
She said the facilities will be charged all applicable taxes including personal property taxes and sales taxes, plus they must have business licenses. After the licenses are issued, the property will be inspected and recorded with the city.
Councilwoman Jean Timbes said it appeared to her that there are a lot of loose ends that need to be tied up before the ordinance is passed.
Council appeared to be somewhat influenced by a letter that they referred several times during their discussion.
The letter came from Owen Freeman, who owns one of the homes that’s being rented through Airbnb. In his letter, Freeman said Conway is a great place for this type of rental due to its close proximity to Coastal Carolina University, which brings parents and other visitors to the area.
“My goal,” he wrote, “was to bring people to the town to enjoy it and support it. We promote downtown business with a folder of things to do while staying in Conway, including flyers for local shops and lists of local restaurants to visit.”
He says he pays all applicable taxes and doesn’t think this is any different than if he rented his house fulltime to a family.
He says when he bought the house it had been empty for two years and was an eyesore. He remodeled it, manicured the yard and canvassed the area making sure that his neighbors were okay with bringing in short-term renters.
He also contends that policing the short-term rental residences will be expensive, with the city losing money on it because there are only three known Airbnb residences in Conway.
“Self regulation is the way forward on this agenda item as overall our guests have been here to work or to visit family all the while spending money in the city of Conway,” Freeman wrote.
Councilman William Goldfinch argued several times that the short-term rental practice needs some regulation.
He said he hates regulations, but council has some responsibility to protect people. He also referred to a situation that got city staff looking into the popular practice.
There were complaints about one of the residences that at the time was renting with no regulations.
He said people were smoking pot in the driveway and using foul language in a nice family neighborhood where children frequently were playing outside and witnessing this unsuitable behavior.
Councilman Shane Hubbard said there are long-term rental facilities that he wouldn’t want a dog to live in, and he doesn’t see treating the short-term rentals differently than the long-term rentals.
He also pointed out that Conway has a noise ordinance that could be used to solve some of the types of problems that Goldfinch mentioned.
Goldfinch said the point about the noise ordinance was good, but he related a problem that he had faced with noise, saying it took a very long time to get anything done about it.
He also believes Conway is a great place for the Airbnb rentals due to its closeness to Coastal Carolina University.
“It’s a great opportunity,” he said, adding that he doesn’t want heavy regulations making it too expensive, but he agrees that short-term rentals need to be controlled.
Anderson expressed concerned about the danger of fire and people not having a proper egress.
“I still would like to be able just to have the opportunity for someone to go into the residence,” he said.
Conway Mayor Barbara Blain-Bellamy said she thinks the city has a responsibility to make sure that the residences are basically safe if they’re registered with the city. She wants to make sure that they’re habitable and fire safe, if nothing else.
City planner Jessica Hucks said everyone is subject to an inspection before they get a business license and every department will have to sign off on the license.
But Timbes said it seems to her that having them on some type of list is an endorsement for the residences. She said it concerns her that someone can find a residence online that hasn’t been inspected.
“There seems to be a number of concerns that may not have been considered by staff…I don’t get the idea that we’re ready,” Blain-Bellamy said.
City Administrator Adam Emrick said the city might want to add a fee structure because having to inspect these facilities will take city staff’s time.
He also pointed out that there are already laws against smoking pot in a driveway.
He thinks some of the complaints are being lodged because people who are staying in the residences want to use every amenity a house has while they’re there because they don’t have some of them a home.
He also agreed with the Mayor that the city should have the right to close down residences if they get too many complaints.
The issue is tentatively set to come back to council Jan. 6.