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  • Writer's pictureRenee Chastain

The Proposed New Greenville, SC Zoning Codes and Short-Term Rentals-- Everything you need to know

After 20 years, the city of Greenville is updating their city Zoning Codes. The goal of this project is to continue to help Greenville grow sustainably, protect neighborhood areas, provide more green space, and to deliver city planning that better serves our current city life.

Greenville Development Code on Greenville City Short-Term Rental Ordinance

The new zoning categories are much more intuitive and seem to take out some of the gray area and shoulder districts (mainly the old O-D or Office District distinction), providing clearer delineation between residential, mixed use, and commercial areas, with mixed use being primarily downtown condos, apartment buildings, or other areas where you can easily walk to local businesses and restaurants.

As we expected, the new zoning laws also weigh-in on short-term rental (Airbnb) uses throughout the city, which has been a highly contested issue.

***Please note, this information is accurate at the time of publication. Updates will be provided as I get them. This is a proposed city code and subject to change. Individuals are always encouraged to do their own research and to reach out to City Zoning Staff to fully understand proper property use. Finally-- zoning laws are not the only thing to be consulted when seeing if a property can be used as a short-term rental. The Ordinance can be superceded by provisions laid out in an HOA or Condo Regime Covenant.***

To understand the upcoming changes to STR use, it's best to be familiar with the current zoning laws, which I've explained here.

Previously, Short-term rentals fell into two zoning use categories: Hotel/Motel and Bed & Breakfast.

These distinctions no longer exist. They have been replaced with one new category, Lodging. This category is broken into two distinctions-- places that rent out less than 10 rooms, and places that rent out more than 10.

Here is the proposed Use Case Category and its requirements from sections 3-14 and 3-28 of the Proposed Greenville Development Code:

New Lodging Category in Greenville City Short-Term Rental Zoning Ordinance

This section outlines the definition of the Lodging Use Category, specifically naming short-term rental in its description. They only list one group here, but the 10-bedroom distinction can be found on the actual zoning use graph seen below.

Additional notes later on in the document specify:

Changes to Special Exception Airbnb Permit in Greenville City Short Term Rental Ordinance

These provisions seem to be aimed at preserving apartment blocks for long-term residential purposes, but limiting a multi-unit use to only renting 25% of the units.

While this makes sense in large complexes, I do wonder about the impact on four and five-plex properties-- would this provision also apply to them?

The licensure requirement also makes sense, as operating that many units is a much greater responsibility.

However, the most fascinating update is letter b, which I believe just occurred. A previous draft of the zoning use graph did not allow for any special exceptions for short-term rental use. Now, however, a small category of properties, mostly that were previously Zoned S-1 (a use-case that did allow for STRs previously), are able to get a special exception provided that "1 person engaged in the use ... reside(s) on the property."

This is a change from the former bed and breakfast policy (the closest equivalent), which stated that the property owner must permanently reside in the home. One has to wonder if this change would allow for a designated staff person or property manager to live on site, instead of the homeowner needing to be present.

While that would be an improvement, I must note that the RC districts are very few and far between, so finding a property with this exception would be rather difficult.

We also do not yet know what the process is for getting an exception. Previously, the applicant had to fill out mountains of paperwork to prove that the use was in agreement with the zoning codes, hold a community meeting, and then present the case to the zoning board for approval.

The New Proposed Zoning Categories + Checking your Property's Proposed Classification

As stated above, the new zoning codes are more intuitive on the whole when defining the different city districts.

Below, you will see a list of the new zoning classifications and whether they allow for the Lodging Use Case.

The key is as follows:

A dash (-) means the use is not allowed

S* means the use is allowed with a special exception, like I discussed above

P* means the use is allowed in that area (but most follow the guidelines for use)

Proposed Zoning Categories for Lodging Use in Greenville City Airbnb Short-Term Rental Zoning Ordinance

To get a bird's eye view of the proposed Zoning Map, you can check out this PDF provided by the city. This map is best for getting an overall feel for the new districts and their boundaries.

In order to check your property's proposed new zoning, you will want to use this draft GIS map instead.

Simply enter your address in the upper right search box, and you will be taken to your plot. The pop-up box will show your proposed zoning as well as your current zoning distinction.

The Biggest Changes I'm Seeing

Many of the zoning changes are just a matter of updating the current use to new terminology, but there are a few areas that are seeing more significant change that definitely affect those invested in the Short-Term Rental industry.

The "end" of the Bed and Breakfast Exception

The biggest change effecting residents is the "end" of the Bed and Breakfast exception. This exception allowed for residents who occupied their homes as primary residents and owners to rent out a room, basement, or accessory dwelling unit on Airbnb, provided the use was approved by the Zoning Board.

This was the only path for citizens to rent an Airbnb in a true "residential" area. Now, the only place where there is a possible exception are in the very tiny RC districts, a shoulder area between residential and mixed use commercial space.

While positive changes to the zoning codes allow for more ADUs (accessory dwelling units, also known as granny flats, which can be a stand alone small space, garage apartment, or basement with a separate entrance), they have also hamstrung taxpayers by not providing a way for them to monetize those ADUs when they aren't using them for family members or guests, as they can now only rent them for 30-days at a time.

This is the most significant change to the zoning ordinance, and it directly affects individual homeowners, not large investment groups.

Re-allocation of S-1 Zoning Category

The S-1 category currently reflects residential areas that are away from the Downtown Area and integrate commercial buildings, parks, etc with residential areas. A prime example is Hollingsworth off of Verdae Blvd, where several neighborhoods can easily walk to Parkside Pediatrics, Chestnut Coffeehouse, and Stella's Southern Brassiere, among other commercial businesses. The S-1 zoning distinction was also one of the only residential distinctions that allowed for short-term rental without having to obtain a special exception.

The S-1 distinction is going away, and the properties in that area are being rezoned as traditional residential areas, or RC (residential community) districts. The newly proposed RC district, which formerly would have allowed for Airbnb without exception, is now the only category to be eligible for a special exception permit.

The RC district is also much smaller than the former S-1 district, only encompassing properties directly adjacent to commercial and mixed use distinctions, versus covering a general walkable radius.

This, again, further limits the rights of homeowners to STR their properties.

Re-allocation of O-D Category

No zoning category is more hotly contested than the O-D category. O-D, also known as "Office District" typically describes areas that are on the cusp of Mixed and Commercial Use areas in the Downtown area.

They typically have a mix of residential homes and homes converted into offices, or are small condo units near commercial areas.

The most well-known O-D neighborhood in Downtown is the Pettigru Historic District. This neighborhood is now commonly law offices and small businesses who occupy the historic homes alongside traditional residents.

The O-D zoning code allowed owners to get a special exception permit to rent the property as an Airbnb, which required hearings and approval by the Zoning Board.

In recent years, there has been a huge flood of applicants desiring this exception, which resulted in a joke that the O-D was the new "Airbnb district."

After a ton of push back from the Pettigru neighborhood, it appears that the city is moving to turn it back into a Residential area, giving the entire area a residential neighborhood zoning classification.

Many other properties that were zoned as O-D were reallocated as "Mixed-Use" properties, which does give them the ability to be rented out short-term, expanding the allowable short term rentals near Downtown by a small margin.

What about my existing Airbnb? Will I be grandfathered in?

The question on everyone's mind is, of course, what do I do if my Airbnb's proposed zoning makes it illegal?

That will depend on which of the following best represents your situation:

I operate a Short-Term Rental with the proper license, pay city taxes, and/or have received a special exception use permit from Greenville City Zoning

If this is you, you are in the best-case scenario! Zoning officers should be reaching out to you shortly to let you know that you are in this category. Pre-approved licensed Airbnbs will be permitted to continue as a "non-conforming" use case.

This exception will only apply to the current owner of the property. It cannot be transferred to a new owner, and will cease to be an option after that owner sells the property.

If the permit-holder ceases renting the property short-term for a period greater than 12-months, he or she will also forfeit the ability to operate as a short-term rental.

I operate a Short-Term Rental that is allowed to exist via current Zoning and does not require a special exception, but that will not be allowed in the newly proposed zoning and I have NOT applied for a permit.

In this case, you want to be grandfathered in, like the above situation. I urge you to immediately do all you can to get necessary permitting before these proposed zoning laws go into effect! The process is fairly simple and requires a quick inspection, paperwork, and setting up tax forms to remit local hospitality taxes. I am not sure how long these permits will be granted with the proposed changes on the horizon.

I operate a Short-Term Rental, or plan to operate one, that currently requires a Special Exception Permit, but I have not obtained it.

I would urge you to try to get that exception ASAP. But, I am also not sure how favorable the Zoning Board will look upon that exception, given that it will soon not be an option for your property. I would contact the Zoning Office to see what they advise for your next steps.

I operate a Short-Term Rental that is not properly zoned.

Please note you are not in current zoning compliance, and if caught, will be asked to bring the property into compliance by renting the property for a minimum of 30-days

Evaluating Property in the Interim

As Realtors and Investors, our job just got a lot more fun. Evaluating a property to purchase for use as a Short-Term rental will require checking both current and future zoning to understand compliance.

I recommend using the draft GIS map to understand current and future zoning, and planning your use on the future proposed zoning, or reaching out to the Planning Comission to see if there is a way to quickly get a permit for areas that do not require a special exception before the new code goes into effect (the estimated enforcement date is this Summer).

SC State House Bill 3253 - A Glimpse of Hope

While all of these changes may seem a bit bleak, or at the very least, confusing, there is hope on the horizon for the SC Short-Term Rental industry.

SC House Bill 3253 is currently gaining traction in our state legislatute. This bill would make it illegal for any muncipaity to outlaw Short-Term Rentals.

You can read more about my stance and arguments in favor of this bill, and sign a petition we will be sending to our representatives here.

Finally, feel free to check out my short interview with WYFF4 about the zoning changes. A further story about the House Bill is supposed to come out later today.

As your local Airbnb experts, Westbrook Hospitality is here to help owners, realtors, and concerned citizens navigate the changing city legislation and will do all we can to encourage legislation that provides opportunity for responsible hosting and the sharing of our beautiful city with others.

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