North Myrtle Beach’s city council laid out its proposed short-term rental regulations during a workshop on Wednesday, with solutions to address parking, trash and noise problems.
Banning short-term rentals outright is an idea that’s gained some traction among the city’s 16,000 residents but is skidding on bald tires within the town council.
The city has 4,683 short-term rentals advertised online, said city spokesperson Pat Dowling, with 16 percent listed on Airbnb, 63 percent on VRBO and 21 percent on both sites. There are about 550 short-term rentals in residential neighborhoods, he said.
Those single-family rentals in neighborhoods like Windy Hill are the main source of resident consternation.
“I’ve witnessed vulgar sex acts in broad daylight, adults drinking to the point of passing out, days upon days of extremely loud and expletive-filled music; music so disdainful that my two sons are not allowed in the yard or beyond the porch” said Brian James, who has a home on 41st Avenue South. “Noise is the number one issue plaguing short-term rentals. Yet the chaos the short-term rentals have created in our quiet neighborhoods is perfectly legal. While Charleston and Myrtle Beach have very strong short-term rental policies protecting these single-family residents, North Myrtle Beach has nothing”
James’ change.org petition asking the city to ban the rentals in R-1 and R-2 zoned neighborhoods got more than 180 electronic signatures.
“You’re going to lose your permanent residents,” James told council during the workshop. “If you allow short-term rentals all around us, you’re going to lose us.”
While Myrtle Beach never took formal steps to “ban” short-term rentals, they weren’t included in what was allowed in strictly residential areas when the city passed its first zoning ordinance in 1947, just nine years after the city was incorporated, said city spokesperson Mark Kruea in an email. At the time, existing short-term rental units were grandfathered in. The ones that have operated continuously have been allowed to keep running.
“We have about three dozen short-term rentals that are grandfathered in areas that would not allow them today,” Myrtle Beach city spokesperson Mark Kruea said in an email.
Although they’re not in strictly residential areas, Myrtle Beach has six zoning areas that allow short-term rentals.
“We’re not Myrtle Beach,” said Mayor Marilyn Hatley, who also lives in Windy Hill. “We have to learn to live together because we didn’t buy in a gated community. I knew for the privilege of living in walking distance of the ocean, that I was going to have to put up with some of the things that I particularly don’t like.”
Hatley has said if the city did ban short-term rentals in certain zones, the existing rental units would be grandfathered in. That alone wouldn’t solve the problems at rentals that are operating right now.
“The problem is if you walk in and you say ‘you can’t have a short-term rental in a residential neighborhood,’ you know you’re going to court,” Dowling said. “And the legal input that we’ve had, not just the city attorney but outside attorneys that we’ve had looking into this problem, is that would be a rough day for any city in court.”
North Myrtle’s biggest industry is tourism, and those tax dollars help the city pay for a lot of amenities that locals enjoy.
During the pandemic, being able to rent a home on the beach and enjoy a get-away without too much public interaction is an attractive option.
“We don’t have a lot of hotel rooms,” said Dowling. “What we have is cottages and homes and condos, and that’s always been the case. It’s one of the reasons people come to North Myrtle, particularly in this COVID situation. That’s why they’re picking North Myrtle. Because we’ve got homes that they can isolate in.”
Those rentals generate about 2,000 complaints per year, said City Manager Mike Mahaney. About half of them are noise complaints, and the rest are split between parking and trash problems.
So instead of banning short-term rentals outright, the city is considering an ordinance focused on controlling noise, parking and trash using a permitting system that requires an inspection before an annual permit is issued. If a rental operator breaks the rules too many times, they lose their permit to operate a short-term rental in the city.
Among the proposed requirements for a permitted short-term rental is signage with the name and number of the responsible party who the city can call to address problems within 30 minutes, the maximum overnight occupancy and allowable on-site parking, the rental’s permit number and instructions for overflow parking.
The proposed ordinance divides short-term rentals into two classes.
Class 1 includes single-family homes, duplexes, or townhouses, including individual rooms within a house. Class 2 includes dwelling units within a multi-family structure. Hotels, motels, lodging and boarding houses are not included in the definition.
The proposal says rentals would be required to observe "quiet hours" between 11 p.m. and 7 a.m., during which “no discernible noise from music, television, media or conversations shall emanate from the unit or grounds thereon.”
The quiet hours would also be posted on the required signage.
But the phrasing of “discernable noise” is vague, and according to Planning and Development Director Jim Wood, “unwieldy,” so the city will consider rewording that language.
While North Myrtle already has a noise ordinance in place, Dowling said it’s harder to enforce, because “it’s tied to decibel levels, and those can be very difficult to measure and support in court in court when you factor in humidity, wind speed, elevation of the noise, that type of thing.”
The document as written lays out an occupancy based on parking. No more than 2.5 overnight guests are allowed per available parking space, and overnight hours are defined as midnight to 6 a.m. But the 2.5 number is just a starting point.
Cars are only allowed to stack two-deep, and can only park on legal paved parking spaces, which also include spaces covered with gravel, stone, granite, or pavers. Parking in yards or grass is not allowed, and Dowling said a rental operator can’t dig up their yard to create more spaces.
Under the proposal, if a house can fit more guests than are allowed by on-site parking spaces, rental operators have to prove that they have additional overflow parking by showing the city a lease agreement or a deed showing they have more space, and provide instructions for renters showing them where those lots are.
Still, tying occupancy to parking could limit the number of guests in certain rentals.
Property manager Pam Stanley, speaking on behalf of property owner in Pierwatch Villas and Waterpoint 1, considered Class 2 rentals under the proposal, spoke against tying occupancy to parking, as did councilor Bob Cavanaugh.
Stanley said owners were concerned that limiting their occupancy would depress their property value and rent.
“We limit their parking, and police their parking appropriately,” Stanley said. “They would like that portion of the ordinance only apply to Class 1 and not Class 2.”
The city could choose not to tie occupancy to parking, or address the issue by increasing the number of guests per parking space up to three or four.
“We’re not wedded to two-and-a-half,” Mahaney said. “It’s just a starting point.”
The ordinance would also make it illegal to advertise that a rental unit has more capacity than is allowed.
To lower their risk of catching COVID-19, vacationers have more frequently been cooking their own food instead of going out, which city officials say has exacerbated the short-term rentals’ trash problems.
Already, the city has four trash routes per week along the first three blocks of the city’s beachfront. The ordinance calls for raising the rates on short-term rental units based off the level of service the units require.
“Right now, we charge for two pickups on the beachfront route, but we’re actually doing four days,” Dowling said. “And we’ll have to establish extra pickups for the short-term rentals that are not on the three-block beachfront area, that are in Windy, Hill, Crescent Beach. We may have to buy a vehicle for that, or vehicles.”
To make sure the trash gets taken out, the city plans to include trash day information on the signage that’s required to be posted at the rentals.
The ordinance also requires all rentals to have working smoke alarms inside and outside of all sleeping areas
If a permit-holder breaks the rules too often, he or she could have the rental permit revoked under a "strike" system.
Here’s how it works: if the responsible party can, within 30 minutes, resolve a complaint about trash, quiet hours, maximum occupancy or parking, they’ll get a warning. The operators are allowed up to two warnings per annual permit. If a complaint isn’t resolved within the 30 minutes, or isn’t resolved at all, the operator will get a “strike.” All complaints within one rental contract period would be considered one instance.
After the first two complaints, any additional complaints, whether resolved or not, would be considered a strike under the proposed rules.
If a renter gets three strikes, their permit would be revoked for the rest of their permit period, or six months, whichever is greater. If a rental operator violates the advertising or fire protection requirements, or provides false information on their permit application, they risk a citation and fine, and 30-day suspension of their rental permit. Appeals are allowed.
While some residents are firm in their belief that banning short-term rentals is the best solution, the city wants to try a live-and-let-live approach before deciding if more drastic action is needed. And it doesn’t want to make life harder on its second homeowners either.
“We all live in these neighborhoods with a mix of second homeowners,” said Hatley. “We have more second homeowners than we do full-time homeowners that live in this community.”
City staff will meet next week to discuss possible changes to the proposed ordinance. The next scheduled city council meeting is Sept. 21.