Wilmington looks to swap word that may have prevented rental ruling

The City of Wilmington expected its new short-term rental policies would need tweaking as they took effect, but pending litigation has caused staff to expedite some changes. (Port City Daily/Michael Praats)

WILMINGTON – The City of Wilmington Planning Commission will eye revisions to its short-term rental policies Wednesday to bring some regulations in line with state statutes.

One of the most significant proposed changes is switching out the term “registration” for “permit” in the ordinance, which may have prevented a Superior Court judge from striking down the ordinance earlier this year, according to a UNC School of Government blog post.

The case summary attached to the commission’s agenda for Jan. 6 explains the city was already anticipating it would make several changes to the short-term lodging regulations as part of the Land Development Code rewrite, but it is speeding up the process due to the pending litigation.


Related: ‘Void and unenforceable’: Superior Court judge strikes down Wilmington’s STR ordinance

The city underwent a multi-year process to develop its short-term rental ordinance. As it took effect, a lottery determined which rentals could continue operating. Those who were not so lucky were informed in April, after a one-year amortization period, that they needed to cease their temporary stays.

Months after those notices went out, Judge R. Kent Harrell ruled against the city’s short-term rental ordinance, deeming it “void and unenforceable” in a lawsuit brought forth by Wilmington property owners.

Although the city is appealing the order, it is still looking to correct some of the issues that have come to light as a result of the lawsuit and the UNC School of Government post.

The school of government stated that, per state statute, requiring rentals to register is unlawful; however, local governments have the authority to regulate land uses through zoning permits.

“Had the city simply issued zoning permits to regulate this land use, the judge probably couldn’t have struck down the ordinance on the basis the city violated G.S. 160A-424(c) (a periodic inspections statute),” wrote Rebecca Badget, a local government legal educator.

For this reason, the city is looking to use the term “permit” instead of “registration” in the ordinance. Property owners of whole-house and homestay lodging would have to annually seek a permit from the city, rather than “register” their establishments.

Other proposed amendments would remove the 2% cap on whole-house lodging, except in the multi-family district; remove the minimum 400-foot separation between whole-house uses in multi-family districts; and “eliminate reference to penalties for violations of laws or regulations that are not part of the Land Development Code,” according to the agenda item.

The planning commission meets Jan. 6 at 6 p.m. in the Wilmington Convention Center, located at 10 Convention Center Dr.

Public comments can be submitted through an online form or in person during the hearing. Those who wish to watch remotely can tune in live on GTV8.


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