Friday, June 21, 2024

Shady rental setups prompt Carolina Beach leaders to prohibit ‘rooming houses’

A nuanced refinement to the Carolina Beach town code will prohibit so-called “rooming houses,” in which rooms in the same house are informally leased out to unrelated tenants at the same time. (Port City Daily/Johanna F. Still)

CAROLINA BEACH — Town leaders have cracked down on a gray-zone type of house renting: So-called “rooming houses” have sparked backlash from residents and elected officials alike. 

Rooming houses, as recently defined by Carolina Beach code, involve a setup where the homeowner lives offsite and rents individual rooms to multiple tenants, under separate arrangements. Such dwellings have led to a rise in police calls, parties and drug use in the spots they populate, according to an inflamed resident who spoke at the May 11 meeting. 

The line in the sand between rooming houses and other rental mechanisms like Airbnb is the benchmark of multiple agreements. Property owners renting their houses on Airbnb to a single group at a time will not be affected by the change in ordinance, according to planning director Jeremy Hardison. 

At the May Carolina Beach Town Council meeting, the beach town politicians set in stone the definition of a rooming house, a term used interchangeably with boarding house, and banned the structures throughout the entire town. 

“It came from complaints about one property, which we received a lot of complaints on,” Hardison said in an interview. “So we were trying to address that issue, but we didn’t want to, by doing so, negatively affect how people are operating Airbnbs on their property.”

Property owners can rent multiple bedrooms in their own home under different arrangements — provided the homeowner is living onsite. If the owner doesn’t live there, he or she cannot simultaneously rent one room via Airbnb and another through VRBO, Hardison said. 

‘This is where we start’

Carolina Beach resident Lynn Denne said she and other homeowners have been rallying against rooming houses for three-and-a half years. A group of homeowners in the R-3 residential district previously spoke at a November 2020 town council meeting — they lamented how other beach towns were able to successfully prohibit rooming houses, yet Carolina Beach still struggled with problematic rentals. 

One house in particular caught the public’s ire. Residents collected 911 data, showing dozens of calls for service were made from renters of the specific boarding house during the past few years. Denne even claimed that Joshua Jamal Kharrat, the man recently arrested for allegedly attacking an elderly man with a hammer, was staying at the house in question. 

“Just last week on Thursday night, as I ended band practice at 10:30, I had four police officers pull up and go knocking on the doors of this boarding house that you people are talking about,” Denne told council last week. 

According to comments made at the council meeting, the house Denne and her compatriot Carolina Beach residents protested so strongly was the impetus for county staff to revise its code and put more restrictions on the books. 

Residents in November spoke of moving their children to the ground in response to the sound of gunshots, finding needles on the ground, and other unsavory interactions. With cheap rates like $200 a week, landlords could create carousels of transient renters, which allegedly included felons and even a pedophile in one case, Denne said.  

A WECT report from 2015 discussed an investigation into code violations at a Carolina Beach boarding house, sparked by complaints from former tenants. In that case, the operation had been grandfathered in despite such rental strategies being already outlawed by that point. This most recent code update further restricts the types of rental formulas available to Carolina Beach property owners, and gives police more allowance to enforce the prohibition on rooming houses. 

“This is where we start, Lynn,” Mayor LeAnne Pierce told Denne after her lengthy speech in the public comment section. “I don’t like it either. I live right behind you.”

Denne said she filed a complaint against the rooming house close to her home as soon as the meeting ended. 

“I was asked by someone on that town council if I was happy now,” Denne said. “I said, ‘No, I’ll be happy when you enforce the ordinance.” 

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