For years, hundreds of unlawful short term-rentals have flown under the radar within the city limits of Greenville, but that may soon be coming to an end.
The City of Greenville has hired the outside firm Granicus to crack down on short-term rentals such as Airbnbs and VRBOs from operating where they are prohibited by zoning.
Granicus specializes in digital public service solutions for governments, including services related to municipal zoning regulations.
“Many municipalities adopted regulatory systems 10, 20, even 30 years ago,” the company said in a statement. “These systems have proven ill-equipped to handle the growth of various new technologies, sharing economy services included.”
Greenville City Attorney Mike Pitts said Granicus will identify all short-term rentals that are operating outside of zoned areas and aid the city in ramping up enforcement efforts.
“Before, we have traditionally relied only on a complaint-driven process for enforcement,” Pitts said.
Unpermitted short-term rental operators can be subject to a zoning violation, which typically results in a fine.
With some special exceptions, the rentals are prohibited in most of the city’s residential zones. When they are allowed, they are classified as “hotel/motel” or “bed and breakfast inn” and are located mostly within the city’s central business district.
But more than 300 are operating within the city, according to Airbnb’s Greenville listing, despite the city having granted fewer than 100 permits.
Mayor Knox White said the city has been aware of the discrepancy for years.
“We know they’re out there,” White said. “We just haven’t gone out and tried to ferret out proactively everyone who’s doing [short-term rentals] in places they shouldn’t.”
The issue of short-term rentals cropping up in residential neighborhoods is one nearly every city has been grappling with since the advent of the sharing economy.
The pandemic only heightened those concerns. Nationwide, traditional hotels saw total revenue fall roughly 40% in 2020, according to South Carolina tourism expert Simon Hudson. Short-term rentals, which can allow the option for more privacy and less social interaction, were hit much less hard, with Airbnb losing only 5% of total listings, according to an analysis from AirDNA.
Neetu Patel, owner of Home2Suites and Holiday Inn Express downtown, told the Greenville Journal last year he and other hotel operators understood the appeal of other short-term rental options and the need for competition. Still, Patel said he wanted “a level playing field” whereby Airbnbs had to meet the same level of government oversight as hotels.
With the hiring of Granicus, the city has taken the most concrete step yet to tackle the issue, although Pitts said unpermitted operators shouldn’t expect the SWAT team to come kicking in their door anytime soon.
“Enforcement is a process,” Pitts said. “I want to stress that we would certainly make every effort to work with someone and write a ticket only as a last resort.”