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Rock Hill finalizes big changes to the city's short-term rental rules

Alex Block

The Rock Hill City Council Monday formalized new rules surrounding short-term rentals (STRs) – properties rentable for less than a month, often listed on websites such as Airbnb and Vrbo.

The new regulations lift the cap on the total number of STRs the city will allow and designate them to commercial zones only.

The former change eliminates the cap of 150 total STR permits the city would allow; now there is no formal limit on the number of STR units in Rock Hill.

The latter change removes a stipulation that STR permit seekers get a formal OK from the owners of properties adjacent to where a short-term rental would go. The city has allowed some STRs in residential neighborhoods, but no more will be allowed under the new regulations. Those existing STRs in residential-only neighborhoods will be allowed to remain operating for five years, after which time any tenants must be permanent.

Following Monday’s meeting, Mayor John Gettys said that there are residential properties within commercially zoned sections of the city and that these areas are where new STRs will need to be located. Residents living beside to these properties will no longer be asked to approve an STR on an adjoining property.

The new regulations also eliminate the need for inspections prior to initial permits, “unless you are doing something that requires a building permit,” said Leah Youngblood, the city’s director of planning and development, at the City Council’s Nov. 13 meeting. “Then there’s really no need for us to go in and inspect prior to use.”

The regulations also now prohibit the transfer of a short-term rental property to other owners. Previously, owners could transfer STR properties to family members or through LLCs to other owners.

The new regulations are the latest step taken by Rock Hill in a story that began in earnest in 2020. In an interview with South Carolina Public Radio earlier this year, Youngblood said that the city’s original regulations over how to best manage and control the proliferation of STRs stem from complaints at a single property that was being used as an STR in a neighborhood.

“We had a very large house that had about eight bedrooms, that was being used as a short-term rental,” she said. “It was having all kinds of neighborhood impacts – lots of cars being parked on the street and being used for photoshoots late at night and loud parties and abundance of trash that you wouldn’t usually expect in a residential setting.”

All are things that show up in numerous stories and business blogs regarding the perils of having short-term rental properties in residential neighborhoods. Youngblood said that this property was the only one the city had received complaints about and that it has received no complaints about any STRs since Rock Hill’s first managing short-term rentals rules went into place three years ago.

This is where opponents to the rule changes have focused their arguments. City resident Tom Hutto, who filed a lawsuit against the city last spring over its short-term rental regulations, told the City Council at its Nov. 13 meeting that the new regulations are a solution to a problem no one has.

Hutto referenced the city’s conclusion that STRs “have led to citizen complaints [of] revolving occupancy turnover, excessive noise, disorderly conduct, traffic congestions, parking limitations, and trash accumulations.”

But none of the city’s STR permit holders, he said, have had any complaints from neighbors.

“The only complaint we’ve had is that we exist,” Hutto said. “We don’t have any police reports, we don’t have any parties, we don’t have any trash accumulations, we don’t have any parking issues. None of that is accurate.”

One of the other issues the city has cited as a reason for regulating STRs is that short-term rentals “do not ordinarily contribute to activities that strengthen a community.”

“Actually they do,” said city resident Tom Roper, whose wife operates an STR in town. “My wife has had several guests who wanted to see Rock Hill before moving here. And they didn’t want to see it from a hotel or a motel, they wanted to see it from a residential area.”

The city’s reasoning behind making these changes – and by moving STR rules out of the city code to the jurisdiction of the Zoning Board of Adjustment – is that the new regulations will streamline the process for using a property as a short-term rental and remove the red tape from the city manager’s office, which has fielded calls related to STRs in the city.

Scott Morgan is the Upstate multimedia reporter for South Carolina Public Radio, based in Rock Hill. He cut his teeth as a newspaper reporter and editor in New Jersey before finding a home in public radio in Texas. Scott joined South Carolina Public Radio in March of 2019. His work has appeared in numerous national and regional publications as well as on NPR and MSNBC. He's won numerous state, regional, and national awards for his work including a national Edward R. Murrow.