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What business does a city have in its residents’ bedrooms? Tega Cay wants to know.

Michael and Brittany Kelly’s Rock Hill homes is one over several in the area advertised online for short-term rentals.
Michael and Brittany Kelly’s Rock Hill homes is one over several in the area advertised online for short-term rentals. Tracy Kimball

It’s a question of what business a city or town has in its residents’ bedrooms. Or, what business residents can run out of them.

Tega Cay is looking into short-term rentals.

Rock Hill did last year. Both in response to the growing trend of people renting out their spare rooms or even whole houses through online services. Tega Cay has an online survey up through the end of the month to guage interest in changing its laws.

“I don’t think there is a big push for it, but that’s why we are doing the survey,” said Charlie Funderburk, city manager. “When short-term rentals were prohibited in 2007/2008, things like AirBNB weren’t around. Now they are.”

Back then, Tega Cay set up rules prohibiting home rentals shorter than 90 days. The rules set guidelines for bed and breakfast establishments. There are community impacts when more and more homes are used as rentals rather than residences.

“There are definitely potential impacts to neighborhoods,” said Leah Youngblood, planning and zoning manager for Rock Hill. “It can change the character of a neighborhood over time. It can feel more transient and more commercial.”

Rock Hill planners were asked for a recommendation last year. They provided their city council one which would’ve capped rentals at 14 or fewer days a year without a special exception, and prohibited rentals without a primary occupant. Council didn’t go with it.

“We had one complaint on one property, and they didn’t feel like that was enough to warrant making changes,” Youngblood said.

The result?

“Right now there are really are no rules,” she said.

There are in Tega Cay. Those ordinances from a decade ago actually prohibit short-term rentals. So someone using airbnb.com or homeaway.com or any of the multitude of related sites to rent out a room are technically violating the law.

The city doesn’t go after people listing their homes or rooms, but will send a letter if a complaint comes in from neighbors.

“From time to time we are notified that properties within Tega Cay are listed on them,” Funderburk said.

A recent airbnb.com search revealed 10 homes with at least an available room in Tega Cay. They ranged from $32 for a single room in the Stonecrest Boulevard area to a five-bedroom home not far off Shoreline Parkway for $275 per night.

It isn’t just Tega Cay. Another 10 properties were listed between the city and I-77. Dozens more just across the state line, particularly as the map winds closer to Lake Wylie. Almost two dozen more either in town limits or unincorporated Fort Mill, a handful in Indian Land and even more west of the Catawba River in Rock Hill.

While many short-term rentals are moderately priced, some properties are more expensive than most. Rock Hill has a five-bedroom house listed at $720 a night and a 10-bedroom, 7,200-square-foot home at $650. North of Lancaster there’s a room listed for $650 a night, and east of the city a 19-bed vacation home for $595. Chester has five bedrooms on an 87-acre property with pool listed for $542 a night.

Just into North Carolina, there are eight properties on or near Lake Wylie listed at more than $500 a night. Including the home that once belonged to former Charlotte Hornet Larry Johnson, where four beds will cost $4,000 a night. Over in Gaffney, there are four bedrooms in an executive home listed for $3,000 a night.

Municipal leaders say a look into vacation rentals isn’t about taxing or financial matters as much as what those rentals mean for neighbors.

“We understand the world is changing,” said Chris Leonard, chairman of Tega Cay’s planning commission.

So far, the survey responses have been fairly even. Initially they leaned toward people who don’t want them. People in favor tend to talk about property rights and economic opportunity, Leonard said. People against tend to focus on their own homes.

“They’re much more concerned about the quality of life with people using the property who aren’t homeowners,” Leonard said. “And we all get that. We all moved here for a reason.”

Brittany Kelly in Rock Hill said as long as homeowners work with reputable online groups, quality of life complaints shouldn’t be an issue. She rented her home out six or seven times, mainly in the summer when her family — they have three children — travel. In May they have a group coming in for a wedding.

“We just started it when the BMX Championships came into town,” Kelly said. “We heard that they were in desperate need of homes. It worked out within minutes.”

There are eight or nine homes near hers where people rent out space. She believes people should be allowed to choose what to do with their homes. Plus, most rentals tend to attract people looking for a “home” feel. Especially more expensive properties.

“It’s much more cost effective to rent a home, and you still get the comforts of home,” Kelly said. “We really haven’t had any issues from our neighbors. We haven’t made a habit of (constant renting).”

If cities begin limiting rentals, they could create a financial impact for residents. Butch Miller began in the short-term rental game back in 2009 when — of all people — a neighbor turned him on to it. He is a builder and his wife a real estate agent. A tough combination back when recession hit in 2008.

“It allowed us to keep our property,” Miller said. “It’s been a godsend to us.”

The Miller property is right across the cove from Tega Cay. The dock is in South Carolina, the home in North Carolina. The family has had guests from Europe, South America. They’ve had athletes and race car drivers.

“It’s been a wonderful thing,” Miller said. “We haven’t had any trouble.”

Which is why he wouldn’t want a city or town telling him how to use his property.

“I don’t think the city should have any control over it,” he said. “It’s not a hotel. It’s not a resort.”

Theresa Allen also has a home on the lake. It’s just over in North Carolina. She started last August.

“So far it’s been fantastic,” she said. “We’ve met a lot of people here from Charlotte who just want to get away for a weekend on the lake. We’ve had a lot of people who are looking for property.”

Three of the last four stays were people looking to retire in the area. A try-it-before-you-buy-it scenario. Homes on the lake work particularly well for rentals because, in addition to people wanting short stays there, many neighbors are in the same boat.

“A lot of us have vacation homes that are on the water,” Allen said. “On our street they have multiple homes, and they’re only present a portion of the time here. From a financial aspect, it’s good income.”

Allen comes from Chicago, and said there have been issues there with rentals so she understands neighboring concerns. She can imagine them herself.

“I can totally see both sides,” she said. “Would I want my neighbor having people pop in and out all the time? Probably not.”

There isn’t a standard template for the Tega Cay. Leaders there studied nearby municipalities, and others in high rental areas like the South Carolina coast.

“They vary pretty widely. Some communities are silent on it. Some have a pretty extensive set of regulations,” Leonard said.

His commission doesn’t have a strong opinion yet. The survey will carry heavy weight in whatever the planning commission sends to its city council for a vote, perhaps even next month. The city also is looking at whether any new rules should apply to all properties.

The Game On development planned for Tega Cay will have a sports megaplex, restaurant and retail space, a hotel. Part of that plan includes apartments over businesses. The developers told the city those apartments would be ideal for athletes coming in to train at the sports site.

“That kind of area might be suited for short-term rentals,” Leonard said.

Funderburk said concerns are “pretty balanced” and he doesn’t know what final recommendation the planning group will make.

“I definitely don’t think there is one singular person or entity pushing the issue other than council asking the planning commission to research the subject and bring back a report and recommendation,” he said.

Youngblood said the short-term rental issue is complicated. As online sites grow, the complication likely will, too.

“There’s all these different hybrids,” she said. “You have some that are an entire home, some that rent out a room, some that rent out an apartment within their home.”

Rock Hill doesn’t have new rules working through the pipeline. Planners were told to keep tabs on the issue and see if complaints mount.

“What we’ve been telling people since then is if we receive more complaints about it, we’d look into it again,” Youngblood said. “But we haven’t.”

Working with established third parties and offering homes at a price point high enough to “cut out a lot of the rift raft” are ways homeowner can protect themselves, Kelly said. To what extent cities encourage and make would-be renters take such precautions isn’t clear.

More communities may face similar questions, as more people not only look to make a little money on the side but also to find a deal when they are away from home.

“We very rarely stay in hotels when we travel,” Kelly said.

To take the survey, go to surveymonkey.com/r/ZFN8TSG.

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