For the most part, when we are traveling and need to fit an entire family in a cute bungalow on an urban tree-lined street, we love Airbnb. When it is next door, not so much. This is the rub, folks. It is a good example of NIMBY (Not in My Backyard).
What qualifies as a short-term rental? It varies in cities, but in the city of Greenville, under 30 days is considered a short-term rental. Airbnb has become synonymous with short-term rental within a residence, but there are a dozen sites that offer nightly rentals.
Are Airbnbs legal? Yes, but with exceptions. They are legal in certain zoning classes (downtown, for instance) in the city of Greenville with an occupancy permit and a business license. They are legal in single-family residential neighborhoods with a special exception and a bed & breakfast permit. The city outlines it step by step on its planning department website.
How many are legal in the city of Greenville? The Airbnb website lists more than 400 operating in the city of Greenville. According to the city, there were fewer than 100 permitted (including hotels). You just did quick math like me and realized there are several hundred flying under the radar.
Michael Frixen, assistant to the city manager and sustainability coordinator for the city of Greenville, has looked at best practices nationwide. He has recommended that City Council hire a compliance officer to enforce the current bed & breakfast permits. This would be in addition to two zoning officers who enforce complaints now.
What happens now if a complaint comes in? If a call about an Airbnb comes into Greenville Cares, a zoning officer will investigate. Property owners are given some grace and an opportunity to comply before stricter penalties are enforced.
How do hoteliers feel about Airbnb? Downtown Greenville now has more than 2,000 hotel rooms, and the recent reduction in business and recreation travel has put a tremendous burden on these hotels. Multiply 2,000 by seven nights a week and 52 weeks per year, and you can see these business owners are under pressure to fill rooms. Add a pandemic to make this a perfect storm. Hotels’ occupancy is down, and they are concerned for their employees and their future.
Neetu Patel, owner of the Home2Suites and the Holiday Inn Express downtown, understands the challenge for competition, but wants a level playing field. He is encouraged by the discussion for a downtown conference center and the building of Unity Park. He also wants the city to focus on recruiting a national headquarters into downtown.
Competition is to be expected, right? People don’t go into business without thick skin. If they don’t have it when they start, they do after a couple of months fretting over making payroll.
Who operates Airbnbs? Let’s take Mike (a real person, but he prefers to remain anonymous). In between jobs, he operated an Airbnb in his home in a neighborhood close to downtown. He used the rental revenue to pay his mortgage and build a new kitchen. Most of the people who stayed with him were relocating to Greenville and were looking for a house. For three weeks, Mike also hosted a cast member from “The Lion King,” who wanted a backyard for her dog while she was on tour.
An overall economic benefit is the growth in residential real estate thanks to Airbnb visitors. A recent Airbnb survey named Greenville a top city for relocating. Stephen Edgerton, president and CEO of Caine Company, validates this: “This summer, fueled by relocations and low interest rates, we saw a historically high number of closings. In fact, June set a new all-time record for residential transactions in Greenville.”
If we want all boats to rise, we need to continue to build an Upstate that brings jobs. Is it a conference center, Unity Park, the Prisma Health Swamp Rabbit Trail, a Fortune 500 headquarters? Yes, yes, yes and yes.
Amy Ryberg Doyle served for 12 years on Greenville City Council. She is married and has four children. An outdoors enthusiast, she likes to bike, swim and run, but not all in that order. She power-naps daily.