Short-Term Rental

In 2019, Kiawah Island Town Council passed a revised short-term rental ordinance that became effective January 1, 2020. Below is information on the ordinance. All short-term rental properties are encouraged to follow these protocols to prevent exposure of your renters and your workers to the COVID-19 virus.

If you’re renting your property for less than 30 consecutive days, you need an annual rental business license for each property prior to advertising or renting and the property must pass inspection for conformance to building codes. A property that is rented for 14 days or less in total during a calendar year is not considered a short-term rental. Any property rented on a long-term lease basis (30 days or longer) must have a standard business license instead of an STR license. Please review the classification section below for specifics.

Licenses are distributed on a first-come, first-served basis. Licenses expire on April 30 annually and must be renewed no later than April 30 annually to avoid penalties. Existing STR license holders have first preference to renew annually to maintain their license, as long as the license is in good standing with the Town. To apply for a license, visit our online services portal.

As of 11/30/2022, the number of available licenses remaining in the capped areas is 138, and the percentage of rentals to developed lots is 15%.

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Business Licenses

A business license fee is required by anyone who is intending to or engaged in a business, occupation, or profession within the limits of the town.

Planning and Zoning

The Planning and Zoning Department processes applications for zoning permits, subdivision of land, re-zonings, planned developments, variance requests and much more.

Short-Term Rental
A short-term rental is any property used for accommodation rented or leased for less than 30 consecutive days. A property that is rented for 14 days or less in total during a calendar year is not considered a short-term rental and is excluded from the provisions of the ordinance.

Any property which is leased on a long-term lease basis (30 days or greater), then made available for less than thirty (30) is considered a short-term rental that is subject to the Town’s short-term rental ordinance.

Any property leased from its owner on a long-term lease basis (30 days or longer) must have a standard business license instead of an STR license. However, if ever a long-term rental property is made available for short-term rental, the lessor must carry a standard business license, and the lessee must carry a short-term rental license and are subject to the Town’s short-term rental ordinance.
Requirements for a License
  • The property must be subscribed to twice a week backdoor trash collection.
  • Owners must have an active account with the South Carolina Department of Revenue and Charleston County to submit accommodations tax (see the section on this webpage labeled Sales and Accommodation Taxes).
  • Owners must apply for a rental business license with the Town and pass an inspection of the rental properties for conformance to building codes.
Sales and Accommodation Taxes
The rules for when you are required to collect sales and accommodation taxes are complicated and depend on whether your house is a primary residence (4% assessment) or a secondary residence (6% assessment) and how many days of the year it is rented. There are several taxes that must be collected, and some are paid to the state and some to Charleston County. Provided below are the links.

The annual application fee for the STR Business License, including lot applicants, is $500 for any property located in the R1 or R2 zoning districts subject to caps; $200 for all other properties. In addition, there is an annual license fee that is based on gross receipts. To find out what district a property is in, owners can access the zoning map here or call the Planning Director at 843-768-9979.

In the event a license is not granted due to licenses being capped, the application fee will be suspended until the application is approved, and a license is awarded.
License Specifics
Individuals are responsible for reviewing the entire short-term rental ordinance to ensure compliance. Below is a brief summary:

  • Every owner of a property who operates their property as a short-term rental must have a current license during any calendar year in which a short-term rental is operated. A separate license is required for each property. Licenses expire annually on April 30 and are not automatically renewed. Renewals must be reapplied for no later than April 30, without penalty.
  • Licenses are distributed by the Town’s finance department and should be applied for through the online services portal. Licenses for rental properties are distributed on a first-come, first-served basis.
  • Existing STR license holders have first preference to renew by April 30 to maintain their license, as long as the license is in good standing with the Town.
  • Licenses do not run with the property unless it is an intra-family transfer of property. If a home with a license is sold, the new owner must apply for their own STR license, subject to section 15-802, and all other provisions in the STR ordinance.
  • The owner of an undeveloped lot can obtain a Provisional Lot License (PLL). The PLL is valid for three years from issuance and guarantees the owner the right to obtain a Rental Business License upon issuance of a Certificate of Occupancy. PLL’s can only transfer if there is an intra-family transfer of property.
  • Properties holding an STR business license will have first preference to maintain their license, as long as the license is in good standing with the Town and they renew by April 30.  A license may be subject to expiration or may not be renewed should an owner not report any rental income revenue or not be actively making their property available for rent. The owner will need to demonstrate the short-term rental property was available and advertised for rental throughout the previous year.
Rental Property Caps
  • The Town limits the number of rental business licenses issued annually. Caps establish a limit of 20% of all homes, island-wide in R-1 and portions of R-2 and no limit in all other residential zoning districts. The cap is calculated as a percentage of rental licenses (including PLL’s) to developed lots within the R1 zoning district, and the specific R2 zoned areas identified below. Developed lot numbers are defined from the County Assessors Office as of December 31 of the prior calendar year.
  • If/when licensing caps are reached, existing license holders have first preference to renew as long as they renew their licenses by April 30 annually, and as long as the license is in good standing with the Town. If the license holder fails to renew their license, they will be placed on a waitlist on a first-come, first-served basis. If the license cap has been reached, new applicants applicant will be placed on a waiting list until a license becomes available.
  • To find the zoning district for your property, you can look up your street name on the designation list or on the zoning map. For further assistance, call the Town’s planning department at 843-768-9166.
Zoning Districts
Each property has a zoning designation associated with it based on density and lot size. The zones addressed in the ordinance are as follows:

Residential 1 – (R-1) Single-family Homes
Residential 2 – (R-2) Single-family Homes & Single-family attached (cottages)
Residential 3 – (R-3) Multifamily (villas)

  • To find the zoning district for your property, you can look up your street name on the designation list or on the zoning map. For further assistance, call the Town’s planning department at 843-768-9166.
Transfer of Ownership
STR licenses do not transfer with the sale of the unit nor do provisional lot licenses unless there is an intra-family transfer of property. A change in ownership of the STR property shall require the new owner or its authorized agent to apply for a new license which is subject to license availability. The previous owner is responsible for all charges prior to the change of ownership and is responsible for properly closing his/her license with the Town.
Provisional Lot License
The owner of an undeveloped lot can obtain a Provisional Lot License (PLL). The PLL is valid for three years from issuance and guarantees the owner the right to obtain a Rental Business License upon issuance of a Certificate of Occupancy.  In the event, construction is in process, but a CO has not been issued, the PLL holder may appeal the expiration of the PLL to the Town Treasurer for an extension of up to 120 days. PLL licenses do not transfer with the sale of the unit unless there is an intra-family transfer of property.
Destination or Private Vacation Clubs
Destination or Private Vacation Clubs (“Destination Clubs”) are classified as private and/or exclusive membership organizations or commercial businesses primarily engaged in providing short-term overnight accommodations and related services for its club members with non-ownership interest who seek alternative options to standard vacation home rentals. Destination Clubs typically own or lease properties from the owners on a long-term basis, provide those properties in a variety of locations to its members on a short-term basis, and model a membership access structure where its members purchase membership levels granting access to properties and personalized services. Properties offered by Destination Clubs to a member for less than thirty (30) days are considered STRs whether the Destination Club is an owner of record or a lessee. All references to “owners” in this Chapter apply to Destination Clubs.

Destination Clubs and Private Vacation Clubs are not permitted by the Town’s zoning regulations in Residential Zones R1, R2, and R3 unless they comply with the following requirements:

  • Obtains an STR business license for each property;
  • Pays all required State Sales Tax (8%), State (2%), County (2%) and Local Accommodation (1%) Taxes on gross receipts collected from STRs;
  • Complies with all other rules and regulations applicable to STRs;
  • Provides no commercial services on the subject property; and
  • The owner of the property, if different from the Destination Club obtains a standard business license.
Any applicable properties in R1, R2, or R3 holding a valid STR business license as of the effective date of this ordinance shall be grandfathered and included in calculating the license cap, subject to the following conditions:

  • Residential Business Licenses expire as of April 30 of each year. Failure to renew by the close of business on April 30 will result in the expiration of the license.
  • No late renewals will be permitted for non-conforming use properties, including Destination Clubs and Vacation Clubs.
  • All grandfathered properties shall remain subject to the requirements of this Chapter as STRs.
  • Destination Clubs and Private Vacations Clubs are permitted in Zones R2/Commercial, R3/Commercial, RST-1, RST-2, RST-1/R3, R-2(DA), R-3(DA), and RST-2(DA) are subject to the approval of uses prescribed in the Zoning Ordinance and the requirements of this Chapter as STRs.
Rules and Regulations
The Town’s rules and regulations are applicable to all STR properties whether managed privately or by property management companies and/or the owners. It is the responsibility of the rental owner to abide by the following rules and educate renters:

Renter Education 

A copy of the island’s rules and regulations must be provided to each rental guest and a copy of the rules and regulations must be posted in a visible location within each rental unit. Rental owners/agencies may develop their own format of the rules to be posted in the units or may use the Town’s rules and regulations flyer.

Local Contacts

The owner (or authorized agent) who does not reside within the Charleston Metro Area must identify an individual(s) to serve as a local contact and be authorized and able to respond to emergency conditions or complaints affecting the property and to inquiries from all entities.

You must have a 24-hour contact phone number posted in a visible location within each unit. The local contact must be present within the Charleston Metro Area and be available to respond within two hours after being notified of an emergency by a guest or by a Town employee during any 24-hour period.  If there is a change to a local contact, you must provide updated information to the Town of Kiawah Island Business License Department in writing within three business days.

Maximum Occupancy

The maximum occupancy for all short-term rental properties is two occupants per code-compliant bedroom. Two additional occupants are allowed per dwelling unit. For example, a four-bedroom rental property shall have a maximum of ten occupants. Children under the age of 2 are not included in calculating maximum occupancy.

The number of bedrooms for determining occupancy is based on Charleston County Property Tax records. If an applicant seeks to claim more bedrooms than shown on Charleston County records, the owner or agent must contact the Town’s code enforcement office for review and determination prior to renting. Temporary conversion of rooms such as dining rooms, living rooms, studies, etc., for use as bedrooms for rental purposes, is not permitted.

Parking and Driveways

The maximum number of vehicles permitted for overnight parking for each single-family dwelling unit must be in accordance with the number of parking spaces as defined on the rental application. Vehicles may only be parked on permanent paved or gravel parking surfaces. Parking on grass or landscaped areas is prohibited at all times. Vehicles must be parked in a manner that permits the passage of emergency vehicles. Overnight parking in driveways must allow emergency vehicles within 25 feet of the residence.

If a garage is considered in the number of parking spots on the application then access must be provided at all times that the rental is operational. Parking for villa units must be in the villa complex.

Pickups greater than a one-half ton, and cargo vans greater than 12 passengers, recreation vehicles (RVs), buses, trailers, boats, and other large vehicles are prohibited from parking overnight islandwide. Vehicles can not be used for sleeping or overnight accommodations. Properties must comply with St. Johns Fire District requirements and applicable Architectural Review Board regulations for residential zoning districts (R-1, R-2, and R-3) which require that driveway clearance for fire trucks be a minimum of ten feet wide for straight drives and have a height clearance of 13.6 feet.

Trash Collection

Rentals must be subscribed to back-door trash collection two times per week, including recycling service. Trash receptacles must be stored in an enclosed garage or approved screened enclosure whereby the receptacles are not visible from the street. Villas must use provided dumpsters for trash disposal. Dumpster pick-up service must be sufficiently frequent to avoid trash overflow. Dumpsters must be stored on an approved screened pad.

Storage of Personal Items

No clothing or towels are permitted to be draped over deck railings. Bicycles and beach gear and other personal items must be stored in a garage or enclosure and not visible from the street side or adjoining properties or left in a driveway, yard, or parking lot. Villa complexes must provide adequate bicycle racks for overnight bicycle storage. All other gear shall be stored indoors or in provided storage closets.

Exterior Lighting

Outdoor lighting for all other dwellings shall be turned off from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. daily.

From May 15 – October 31, all outdoor lighting, facing seaward in beachfront units must be turned off from 9 p.m. to 8 a.m.


Any of the following will be considered a violation of the Town’s short term rental ordinance.

1) Operation of a rental property without complying with the requirements and the Town code of ordinances;
2)  Misrepresentation on a short-term rental business license application;
3) Advertisement of a property as being available as a rental without first complying with the requirements of the Town’s ordinance excluding properties exempt from these provisions of the rental program not exceeding 14 calendar days on an annual basis;
4) Expansion of allowable occupancy or parking of a rental unit without obtaining a new license;
5) Advertisement of a rental property as being available for more overnight occupants than have been permitted in the ordinance;
6) Advertisement or rental of separate guest or pool houses as an independent rental unit. Such units can be included under a rental business license issued to a single address, but it cannot be rented as a stand-alone unit;
7) Rental of only a portion or individual rooms of a property, to include detached homes, villas, cottages, and any other property.  No rental business license will be issued unless the property is to be rented in its entirety. Owners are permitted to lock off closets or bedrooms from guest access;
8) Operation of a commercial business in an STR property. Examples include, but are not limited to catering, telemarketing, or distribution of goods; and
9) Pruning or otherwise altering vegetation and dunes without the required permits from the Town or other applicable jurisdiction (Kiawah Island Community Association, or the Kiawah Island Architectural Review Board).
Any property with three violations of the STR ordinance during any 12-month rolling period and found guilty by admission or by the Municipal Judge will be considered cause for license revocation. The owner or agent may reapply for a new STR license no sooner than twelve months after revocation, subject to availability of licenses if the property is located in the zones with the caps.
Report Violations
Complaints regarding short-term rentals should be brought to the attention of Town Code Enforcement Offices for follow up. To report addresses that are potentially in violation, please use one of the following reporting methods:

Any person violating any provision of the ordinance shall be subject to a fine of up to $500 plus required statutory assessments or imprisonment for not more than 30 days, or both, upon conviction. Each day of violation shall be considered a separate offense. Punishment for the violation shall not relieve the offender of liability for delinquent taxes, penalties, and any other costs.

An owner may authorize an agent or property management firm to comply with the requirements of this ordinance on behalf of the owner. However, the owner shall not be relieved from any personal responsibility and personal liability for noncompliance with any applicable law, rule or regulation pertaining to the use and rental of the STR property, regardless of whether such noncompliance was committed by the owner’s authorized agent, local contact person, renter or guest of the short-term rental.

A property management firm or authorized agent shall be jointly and severally liable for any violations occurring on any of its managed STRs in the Town.