Are Airbnbs legal in Greenville, SC? Greenville City's Short Term Rental Ordinance Explained
Greenville has a thriving Airbnb, or short term rental market. As a budding tourist town with limited hotels in the Downtown area, our visitors often seek Airbnbs to have an authentic experience in our town.
But are Airbnb’s legal in Greenville?
The answer— it depends.
In this article, we’ll walk you through the City Ordinance, explain the different distinctions, and help you to determine if your property is, or is not, permitted to be a short term rental.
Are you in the City Limits?
The Ordinance governing Short Term Rentals can be found on the Greenville City website. The most important thing to understand is that this ordinance only governs properties within the City limits of Greenville.
The city of Greenville is actually very small, and many areas that have a Greenville address are not in the city limits, and therefore are not subject to this ordinance. Greenville County does not have any restrictions on Short Term Rentals at this time. So, if your property is not located in the city limits, and there isn’t a HOA that restricts this use, you are officially in the clear.
Not sure if your property is in the city limits? Skip down to Determining Zoning to find out.
Greenville Ordinance Classifications
The City Ordinance determines property eligibility based on the Zoning of the property and whether or not the property will seek to operate as a “Bed and Breakfast/Inn” or “Hotel/Motel”.
The difference is that a “Bed and Breakfast” requires the property to be Owner Occupied. In this case, the owner is renting out rooms, an accessory dwelling unit, basement apartment, etc.
A “Hotel/Motel” allows rental of a property, by room or the entire property, without the owner being on sight— this is what most investors think of as a Short Term Rental.
The Hotel/Motel Classification is not permitted under any circumstance in any residential districts in the city of Greenville. The Zoning classifications for these areas are: R-6, R-9, RM-1, RM-2 and RM-3.
Hotel/Motels are allowed in commercial districts C-3, C-4, S-1 and RDV with no additional approval from the city. However, the owner must get an occupancy permit, ensure that City accommodation taxes are being paid (which can be set up with the City and paid monthly via a simple form), and have a business license.
Most of these buildings are in the Downtown area, including condos, shopfronts, townhomes, etc. It is very important to check any HOA these properties may have. If the HOA prohibits Short term rentals, or rentals under a certain number of days, the HOA takes precedence, and the property would not be able to function as a traditional Short Term Rental.
Finally, the city has two “shoulder districts,” that allow for a Hotel/Motel exception. These areas are OD and C-2. Approval is not guaranteed in these properties. An applicant has to submit a report to Zoning, hold a neighborhood meeting, and attend and present at an official Zoning meeting to apply for the Special Exception Permit. Eligibility is determined at that meeting by a vote of the Zoning Board.
Community backlash at these meetings can be substantial, and this process can take several months. If approved, the exception applies only to the current owner and cannot be passed down or transferred through real estate sale. Past approval does not guarantee future approval.
Westbrook Hospitality + Design has experience walking with owners through this process and is happy to lend a hand to our clients. Please contact us for more information and assistance.
Bed and Breakfast/Inn Classification
The key distinction in this category is that the owner of the property must occupy the dwelling. Zoning officials are entitled to stop by the home to ensure this is the case. A live-in property manager is unfortunately not a valid exception— it must be the owner.
Some examples of when this may be in an owner’s interest:
-Renting out a garage apartment or other Accessory Dwelling Unit (ADU)
-Renting out one side of a Duplex
-Renting out a room or suite
-Renting out a basement apartment
Bed and Breakfasts must serve some sort of breakfast (leaving out a cereal bar or something suffices) and adhere to other specific criteria, such as having an occupancy permit, paying occupancy taxes, and having a business license.
This sort of Short Term Rental is allowed without additional approval in: OD, C-2, C-3, C-4, S-1 and RDV. Please notice this includes ares above that would usually require special approval. As usual, an HOA requirement could override the city ordinance— please ensure you check these documents.
Bed and Breakfasts are allowed in Residential areas provided a Special Exception Permit is granted (explained here). The Special Exception can be granted in the following areas: R-6, R-9, RM-1, RM-1.5, RM-2 and RM-3.
Determining a Property’s Zoning
Knowing your property’s Zoning Designation, and whether it is in the City Limit is essential to determining your legality.
Here is a guide on how to do both:
1) Visit the Greenville County Interactive Zoning Map
2) Search for the Property Address
Click the “Search” Button on the Top Left and Type your Address in the Search Bar. Then click the red “Site Address” button to Zoom to your address.
3) Select the Zoning Layer
On the top bar click, “Map Themes” and Scroll down the menu on the left until you see, “Zoning.” Click this to change the Map.
If the property is in the City of Greenville, you will see it written in multiple places and the area will be shaded.
The square around the property is a color indicating your zoning label, which should be listed nearby.
Here is an example of a property right outside the City Limit (red dot) that is zoned RM-20. Anything in the shaded area would be in the City.
I was planning to Airbnb my property and have discovered it is illegal— what now?
In the majority of cases, a home in the City of Greenville is not permitted to be a traditional Airbnb. However, all is not lost, as you could use your property as a Midterm Rental instead.
Westbrook Hospitality + Design is proud to specialize in both Short Term and Midterm furnished rental management.
A Midterm rental is defined as a furnished rental rented for a minimum of 30-days to 6 months at a time.
Common tenants include:
-Those relocating to the area
-Insurance Claim Stays (from fire or flood)
-Extended Stay Travelers
-Those building a new home
The Greenville City Ordinance defines Hotel/Motel and Bed and Breakfast Inn as accommodations lasting less than 30 days, allowing for this other option.
Feel free to contact us if you’d like to learn more about what your home could earn as a Midterm Rental with us!
What if I decide to rent it anyway?
Westbrook Hospitality + Design will not represent a property that goes against this city ordinance. The city of Greenville used to turn a blind eye to “illegal” airbnbs, but that time is no more. Properties that are ne
w to Airbnb and in the City limits, and especially those that have been recently sold, are typically caught and shut down quickly.
The city also relies on neighbor complaints to track down these short term rentals, and are rigorous in contacting the owner if he or she is discovered.
Previously, owners were given 30 days to fall into zoning compliance (removing the property from Airbnb and ceasing rentals under 30 days).
Recently, that window has changed to14 days.
While legal damage from running an illegal Airbnb is low, the damage it can do to your reputation as an Airbnb host, or to your guests, is great. All future reservations must be cancelled, leaving many without a place to go and the host with bad reviews and penalties from Airbnb.
Because of this, we at Westbrook Hospitality + Design work hard to educate our clients and the community on this ordinance to protect tourists and investors from potential fall out.
We have worked hard to become local Short term rental and Mid term rental experts, and we would love to discuss your properties and investment goals. No matter where you are in your journey, we’re here to help.