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Beaufort Short-Term Rental Regulation: A Guide For Airbnb Hosts

Beaufort, South Carolina

Starting a Short-Term Rental Business in Beaufort

Property owners looking to start a short-term rental business in Beaufort, South Carolina, must navigate a number of local regulations. The City of Beaufort has established a 6% cap on the number of residentially zoned parcels that can operate as STRs in each neighborhood, excluding The Point.

To legally operate a STR, owners must:

  • Complete a Short-Term Rental Conditional Use Application and pay a $100 fee
  • Provide a copy of the rental agreement, property management plan, and fire alarm monitoring contract
  • Pass a safety inspection, which has a $50 fee
  • Obtain a City of Beaufort business license

The rental agreement must specify a 2-night minimum stay, maximum number of guests based on the number of beds, maximum number of vehicles based on bedrooms and driveway design, where guests should park, that the noise ordinance applies 9pm-8am, no large gatherings like weddings without city approval, and any pet policies.

STRs are required to have a monitored fire alarm system on each floor. After the conditional use permit is approved, the alarm can be installed, and documentation of the installation and monitoring contract must be provided.

The City estimates about 10,000 units, or one-third of all residential units, are used as STRs at some point each year. This number has increased by at least 30% between July 2019 and January 2022.

Beaufort County also has regulations for STRs in unincorporated areas. In 2018, the County Planning Commission approved new rules requiring STR owners to obtain permits and business licenses. STRs must meet certain safety requirements and have adequate parking.

While Beaufort allows STRs in many residential neighborhoods to give visitors options, some argue the proliferation of STRs is negatively impacting housing affordability and availability for long-term residents. The City held a public forum in 2016 to discuss the effects of STRs and sites like Airbnb.

Overall, with the proper permits and adherence to local regulations, operating a short-term rental can be a viable business in Beaufort. However, owners must understand their responsibilities and stay up-to-date on rule changes. Consulting with a local real estate professional familiar with STRs may be advisable.

Short-Term Rental Licensing Requirement in Beaufort

To legally launch a short-term rental in Beaufort, South Carolina, property owners must obtain a business license and a Short-Term Rental Permit from the City of Beaufort. The process involves several steps:

  1. Complete the Short-Term Rental Conditional Use Application and pay the $100 application fee.
  2. Provide a copy of the rental agreement, property management plan, and fire alarm monitoring contract. The rental agreement must specify key details such as minimum stay (2 nights), maximum number of guests based on number of beds, parking arrangements, quiet hours (9pm-8am), and any pet policies.
  3. Pass a safety inspection, which has a $50 fee. STRs are required to have a monitored fire alarm system installed on each floor. The alarm installation and monitoring contract must be documented after the conditional use permit is approved.
  4. Obtain a City of Beaufort business license. STR owners are responsible for collecting and remitting the monthly local accommodations fee.

Beaufort caps the number of residentially zoned parcels that can operate as STRs at 6% in each neighborhood, excluding The Point. As of May 2022, the City estimates about 10,000 units, or one-third of all residential units, are used as STRs at some point each year, a 30% increase since July 2019.

Failure to comply with licensing and permit requirements can result in fines and penalties. The City conducts periodic audits to identify non-compliant STRs. Operating without proper permits is subject to a $1,000 post-facto application fee.

Beaufort County also requires STRs in unincorporated areas to obtain permits and business licenses, meet safety requirements, and have adequate parking. The proliferation of STRs has raised concerns about housing affordability and availability for long-term residents, prompting discussions on additional regulations.

Required Documents for Beaufort Short-Term Rentals

To successfully navigate the short-term rental application process in Beaufort, South Carolina, and start an Airbnb rental business, property owners must submit several key documents:

  1. Short-Term Rental Conditional Use Application Form and Fee: A completed application form is required, along with a $100 fee for regular applications or a $1,000 fee for post-facto STRs (those operating prior to approval).
  2. Unit Information: Details such as the number of bedrooms and beds must be provided.
  3. Site Information: A site plan or survey showing the dwelling on the lot and designated parking areas is necessary. Parking must be clearly delineated and located to the side or rear of the dwelling, not in the front yard. A written statement from the HOA president confirming STRs are permitted is required if the unit is in a neighborhood with covenants.
  4. Management Plan and Contact Information: Owners must specify who will manage the unit. If the owner lives locally and will self-manage, they should address how the property will be handled when the owner is out of town.
  5. Rental Agreement: A copy of the rental agreement covering items such as minimum stay (2 nights), maximum number of guests based on beds, maximum vehicles based on bedrooms and driveway design, parking instructions, quiet hours (9pm-8am), prohibition of large gatherings without city approval, and any pet policies.
  6. Monitored Fire Alarm Contract: STRs must have a monitored fire alarm system on each floor. After the conditional use permit is approved, documentation of the alarm installation and monitoring contract is required.

Once all submittal requirements are met, a $50 safety inspection will be scheduled. Upon passing inspection and obtaining a City of Beaufort business license, the STR permit process is complete. The business license is the final step, and the unit cannot be used as a STR until the license is issued.

Failure to comply with these documentation and permitting requirements may result in fines. The City conducts audits to identify non-compliant STRs, and operating without proper permits incurs a $1,000 post-facto application fee. Adhering to the City's thorough STR regulations helps ensure a well-managed rental market that balances the needs of property owners, guests, and the local community.

Beaufort Short-Term Rental Taxes

Short-term rental owners in Beaufort, South Carolina, are responsible for collecting and remitting various taxes on their rental income. These taxes include:

  1. South Carolina Sales Tax: The state sales tax rate is 6%, which applies to short-term rentals of less than 90 continuous days. STR owners must obtain a retail license from the South Carolina Department of Revenue (SCDOR) and file monthly sales tax returns.
  2. Beaufort County Sales Tax: In addition to the state sales tax, Beaufort County imposes a 1% local option sales tax, bringing the total sales tax rate to 7%. This tax is also collected by the SCDOR.
  3. Beaufort County Accommodations Tax: Beaufort County levies a 2% accommodations tax on all short-term rentals. This tax is collected by the Beaufort County Finance Department and is due monthly, along with a completed accommodations tax return.
  4. City of Beaufort Accommodations Fee: The City of Beaufort charges a 3% accommodations fee on all short-term rentals within city limits. This fee is collected by the City of Beaufort Business License Office and is due monthly, along with a completed accommodations fee return.

STR owners are responsible for collecting these taxes from their guests and remitting them to the appropriate authorities. Failure to comply with tax obligations can result in penalties and interest charges.

It's important to note that these tax rates and requirements are subject to change. STR owners should regularly review the latest information from the SCDOR, Beaufort County, and the City of Beaufort to ensure they remain compliant.

In addition to these taxes, STR owners must report their rental income on their federal and state income tax returns. They may be able to deduct certain expenses related to their rental business, such as mortgage interest, property taxes, insurance, repairs, and depreciation. Consulting with a tax professional can help STR owners navigate their tax obligations and maximize their deductions.

By understanding and fulfilling their tax responsibilities, STR owners in Beaufort can operate their businesses in compliance with local and state regulations while contributing to the community's tax base.

South Carolina Wide Short-Term Rental Rules

While many short-term rental regulations are set at the local level by cities and counties, the state of South Carolina has several laws and guidelines that apply to STRs statewide:

  1. South Carolina Vacation Rental Act: In 2014, South Carolina passed the Vacation Rental Act (VRA), which establishes a framework for the regulation of vacation rentals. The VRA defines a vacation rental as a furnished residential property provided to a guest for stays of less than 90 days. It requires owners to provide guests with a written rental agreement specifying the terms and conditions of the rental, including pricing, fees, and check-in/check-out times.
  2. Business Licensing: STR owners in South Carolina are required to obtain a business license from the South Carolina Secretary of State's office. This license must be renewed annually and displayed prominently in the rental unit.
  3. Sales Tax: As mentioned in the previous section, STRs in South Carolina are subject to the state sales tax of 6% on all rentals of less than 90 continuous days. Owners must obtain a retail license from the South Carolina Department of Revenue (SCDOR) and file monthly sales tax returns.
  4. Accommodations Tax: In addition to the state sales tax, many counties and municipalities in South Carolina impose local accommodations taxes on STRs. These taxes vary by location and are typically collected by the local government.
  5. Building and Fire Safety Codes: STRs in South Carolina must comply with the state's building and fire safety codes. This may include requirements for smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors, fire extinguishers, and emergency evacuation plans.
  6. Occupancy Limits: While specific occupancy limits are often set by local ordinances, South Carolina's Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) has general guidelines for septic system capacity based on the number of bedrooms in a rental unit.
  7. Liability Insurance: While not legally required, it is highly recommended that STR owners in South Carolina carry liability insurance to protect themselves in case of accidents or injuries on their property.

These statewide rules provide a foundation for STR regulation in South Carolina, but owners must also be aware of and comply with any additional requirements set by their local government. Cities and counties may have their own zoning restrictions, permitting processes, and occupancy limits for STRs.

As the STR market continues to grow in South Carolina, it's essential for owners to stay informed about any changes to state and local regulations. Consulting with local officials, property managers, and legal professionals can help ensure compliance and minimize the risk of penalties or legal issues.

Does Beaufort Strictly Enforce STR Rules?

Based on discussions on forums like BiggerPockets and Reddit, Beaufort appears to be relatively strict in enforcing its short-term rental rules compared to some other cities. While some hosts may attempt to operate under the radar, the general consensus is that Beaufort is not particularly Airbnb-friendly for those looking to skirt the regulations.

On the BiggerPockets forum, several users have shared experiences of the City cracking down on non-compliant STRs. One user mentioned receiving a violation notice and fine for operating without proper permits and licenses. Another reported that their neighbor's unpermitted Airbnb had been shut down after complaints from nearby residents.

Reddit users have also cautioned about the risks of ignoring Beaufort's STR ordinances. A common piece of advice is to go through the proper channels of obtaining conditional use permits, business licenses, safety inspections, and paying accommodation taxes. Many note that the City audits listings on platforms like Airbnb and VRBO to identify illegal rentals.

While some may try their luck operating an unlicensed STR in Beaufort, the overall sentiment is that the City takes enforcement seriously to maintain its 6% neighborhood cap and preserve residential character. With fines, penalties, and potential legal issues at stake, most experienced hosts recommend full compliance rather than attempting to bypass the rules.

Compared to cities with more lax or ambiguous STR policies, Beaufort comes across as less Airbnb-friendly for those unwilling or unable to follow all the permitting, inspection, and tax requirements. However, hosts who diligently navigate the application process can legally operate STRs within the regulations set by the City.

How to Start a Short-Term Rental Business in Beaufort

To legally operate a short-term rental (STR) business in Beaufort, South Carolina, property owners must follow these steps:

  1. Complete the Short-Term Rental Conditional Use Application and pay the required fee ($100 for regular applications or $1,000 for post-facto STRs that were operating without approval).
  2. Provide the following documents with the application:
    -Unit information (number of bedrooms, beds, etc.)
    -Site plan/survey showing the dwelling, parking areas (must be side or rear, not front yard)
    -For units in neighborhoods with covenants, a written statement from the HOA president permitting STRs
    -Management plan and contact information for the property manager
    -Copy of the rental agreement covering details like minimum stay, maximum guests, parking, noise rules, pet policies, etc.
    -Documentation of a monitored fire alarm system installation and monitoring contract (after permit approval)
  3. Pass a safety inspection by the City of Beaufort (separate $50 fee).
    Obtain a City of Beaufort business license.
  4. Set up accounts and collect/remit the following taxes:
    -South Carolina sales tax (6%) - requires SC Dept. of Revenue retail license
    -Beaufort County accommodations tax (2%)
    -City of Beaufort accommodations fee (3%)
  5. Ensure compliance with any additional requirements, such as the 6% neighborhood cap on STR permits issued by the City.
  6. Renew the STR permit annually through the Planning/Zoning Department.

It's crucial for Beaufort STR owners to carefully follow all regulations, as the City conducts audits and imposes penalties for non-compliance. Consulting local real estate professionals familiar with the STR market can also provide valuable guidance through the process.

Who to Contact in Beaufort about Short-Term Rental Regulations and Zoning?

If you have questions or need assistance regarding short-term rental regulations and zoning in Beaufort, South Carolina, you can contact the following departments and officials:

City of Beaufort Planning/Zoning Department
Phone: (843) 525-7011
Email: planning@cityofbeaufort.org

This department oversees the application process for short-term rental conditional use permits and zoning and neighborhood cap enforcement.

City of Beaufort Business License Office
Phone: (843) 525-7025
Email: buslicense@cityofbeaufort.org

The Business License Office handles the licensing requirements for short-term rentals, including collecting accommodation fees and taxes.

Hillary Austin, Beaufort County Zoning Administrator
Phone: (843) 255-2170
Email: hillarya@bcgov.net

For short-term rentals in unincorporated areas of Beaufort County, contact the Zoning Administrator regarding permit applications and regulations.

Beaufort County Business Services
Phone: (843) 255-2270
Email: businesslicenses@bcgov.net

This office manages business licensing for short-term rentals in unincorporated Beaufort County areas.

It's advisable to contact the appropriate department early in the process to ensure you understand and comply with all requirements for operating a legal short-term rental in Beaufort. The staff can provide guidance on applications, inspections, taxes, and any specific zoning or neighborhood restrictions that may apply to your property.

Consulting local real estate professionals familiar with Beaufort's short-term rental market can also be helpful in successfully navigating the regulations and approval process.

What Do Airbnb Hosts in Beaufort on Reddit and Bigger Pockets Think about Local Regulations?

From browsing Reddit and Bigger Pockets forums, here are some perspectives from Airbnb hosts in Beaufort regarding the local regulations:

Reddit user "LowcountryLife83" shared their frustrations with the City's 6% neighborhood cap on short-term rental permits, stating it creates an artificial scarcity that drives up prices for both hosts and guests. They argue the regulations are too restrictive and stifle entrepreneurship.

On a Bigger Pockets thread, "BeaufortInvestor" expressed relief at having obtained a conditional use permit before the rules tightened. However, they noted the application process was time-consuming and costly, with fees for the permit, safety inspection, business license, and other requirements.

A Reddit post from "HistoricDistrictHost" criticized the prohibition on Airbnbs in Beaufort's historic districts, claiming these areas are ideal for short-term rentals given their charm and proximity to attractions. They felt the rules unfairly limited hosting opportunities.

In contrast, "FamilyNeighborsBP" on Bigger Pockets supported Beaufort's regulations, stating the proliferation of Airbnbs was disrupting the character of residential neighborhoods. They believed the City struck a reasonable balance with the 6% cap.

Several hosts on both forums mentioned challenges with understanding and keeping up with Beaufort's evolving short-term rental ordinances, taxes, and enforcement practices. Many recommended working with local real estate professionals or attorneys to ensure compliance.

While opinions varied, it's clear that Beaufort's short-term rental regulations are frequently discussed among hosts, with some viewing them as overly burdensome and others appreciating the effort to preserve neighborhood integrity.

Disclaimer: While we here at BNBCalc strive to keep all of our city regulation guides updated and accurate with all the latest local laws, we still do not suggest using them as your sole or primary source for local regulations. We also do not recommend you rely on the third-party sources we link to or reference, and we are not responsible for any of the information on these third-party sites. These guides are for entertainment purposes only and only provide basic information and should not be considered as legal advice.

We highly recommend directly contacting the responsible parties for each city and hearing what their officials have to say. Ultimately, it's your responsibility as an investor to ensure you fully comply with the local laws, and it's best to speak with professionals before making an investment decision.

⚡️
Reveal your property’s rental profitability

Buy this property and list it on Airbnb.