Myrtle Beach gives landowner an extra year to end short-term rentals

sjones@thesunnews.comJune 11, 2013 

— The city of Myrtle Beach has given the owner of a house on 78th Avenue North a year more than he requested to stop short-term rentals at the property.

Like some homes on Ocean Boulevard where the city entered a settlement some months ago to stop short-term rentals, the 78th Avenue property is zoned R-10, which prohibits rentals for less than one month.

The city tried to get an injunction against the Ocean Boulevard property owners in 2011, but when that failed, agreed to let them continue short-term rentals until September 2014. When the city learned of the situation on 78th Avenue, it decided to give that owner the same deal, even though he asked in a February letter that he be allowed short-term rentals through this summer because he already had contracts to do so.

After 2014, Mayor John Rhodes said at a Tuesday City Council meeting, there will be no more lenience. All owners caught illegally renting property will feel the full force of the city’s wrath.

The city’s R-10 zoning is the highest residential zoning and was put in place to maintain the area’s character as one of full-time residences. While long-term rentals may not detract from that character, a series of short term rentals could.

Some in the city hope the problem will stop with the current publicity about short-term rentals in R-10 zoning. Tom Leath, city manager, isn’t one of them.

He is sure there are still more illegally renting to short-term customers now, and that more will crop up as the city works to resolve the cases it knows about.

“It’s never over,” he said before the meeting.

As some are ending short-term rentals, others are beginning it.

City Councilman Wayne Gray said that council members weren’t aware that Brian Boruff, owner of the 78th Avenue property, wrote the city in February asking to be allowed to continue short-term rentals through this September. But he said it likely wouldn’t have made a difference in the council’s decision to allow him the same deal as the Ocean Boulevard property owners.

Boruff had contacted the same attorney as represented at least some of those on Ocean Boulevard, and Gray said allowing him the same deal was preferable to filing a lawsuit the city couldn’t be sure it would win.

Myrtle Beach at first sought an injunction to stop the Ocean Boulevard short-term rentals, but withdrew from the fight when the judge at the hearing remarked that he thought that beach property was meant to be rented, Gray said.

He said it could cost the city $15,000 to $20,000 to go through a lawsuit with Boruff, and it likely wouldn’t even get into a courtroom before 2014.

“Money is always a consideration,” Gray said.

The short-term rentals were prohibited when the city updated zoning ordinances in the late 1980s, Gray said, and some properties in the affected area are still excluded from the law.

Properties that don’t have a 12-month gap in short-term rentals are grandfathered.

The grandfathering remains in force even with a change of owners, as long as the 12-month short-term rental lag is avoided.

The city may never have known of the situation on 78th Avenue North if not for Harry and Carolyn Summer, who live next door to the house that has been rented short-term. Summer told the city of it last September and again in May.

As part of the settlement with all owners, the city is requiring that they get business licenses to operate short-term rentals, pay all fees and follow other rules.

But Boruff said in his February letter that he already had a business license, which prompted Leath to think that perhaps a mistake had been made.

Leath said that the city has separate licenses for short-term and long-term rentals. Perhaps Boruff had gotten the wrong license, he said, or a city employee had not explained the limitations of the long-term licenses.

He said the city checks records and websites to make sure renters are complying with the rules of each zoning district. But reports of transgressions from neighbors could be the best way to find out about owners trying to skirt the law, Leath said.

The Summers built their home on 78th Avenue 15 years ago, Harry Summer said. Since that seven homes on the block have been sold to out-of-towners and only one of them lives in South Carolina.

If the city is lax in enforcing its zoning, what’s to prevent the other owners from also seeking short-term rentals, he wondered.

He said that now there are what appears to be two families renting next door. He’s sure they’re nice people, but it’s still not what he thinks should happen.

The four-bedroom house was rented to bikers during the Harley-Davidson rally in May, and Summer said motorcycles patrolled the one-block street until 1 a.m.

“You like to know who your neighbor is,” he said, “who’s beside you.”

Contact STEVE JONES at 444-1765.

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