Horry County has had homes functioning like boarding houses for years, but those boarding houses have never had a clear definition, and the county has no real way of regulating them.
At Tuesday’s county council meeting, members will consider a new ordinance drafted by county planners that will finally give boarding houses a proper definition.
A boarding house is made up of a group of people who share a common living facility, like a kitchen or living room, but they all have their own bedrooms.
Horry County has an enormous population of international student workers who come in every summer and work in restaurants, hotels and amusement attractions. International workers are who primarily live in these boarding house situations.
For years, the county has had the seasonal workers living in houses that are structured differently than apartments, motels, or single-family homes; the workers share the rent and a common area. It’s a boarding house situation, but the county planning director says right now there’s no way to regulate it.
“Our current ordinance only allows it in one district, a general residential district, but there’s no specifics to it, so there is no definition of what a boarding home is in our current ordinance,” David Schwerd, planning director for Horry County, said.
So, what has happened over the years is homeowners have taken their single-family homes in residential neighborhoods and rented them out to a dozen or more people; and technically they’ve been allowed to do that, because their house is zoned appropriately under county law.
“And we would get complaints and say, you know you’re not allowed to have more than five in a single family neighborhood, which is true,” Schwerd said. “But, if the zoning district allowed for a boarding home they would just claim they’re a boarding home, and then we would have no ability to go in and do any regulation on it. So, we’ve identified that this was a loophole in our system, and we’re trying to tighten it up.”
County planners are looking to update county law to define boarding houses as 6-16 people max, no exterior room doors, and no individual cooking facilities.
A clear definition of what a boarding house is will create a clearer permit process and allow code enforcement to better regulate overcrowding situations.
“What we’re trying to do is provide a safe place for them to be, as opposed to somebody cutting up a house and doing it without any permits,” Schwerd said.
Council members will vote on the planning staff’s update to the current boarding house ordinance.
The City of Myrtle Beach, meanwhile, has allowed boarding houses in certain zones for decades.
“Basically, that’s what was in place here long before we had that proliferation of motels and hotels that we have now on Ocean Boulevard,” Carol Coleman, Myrtle Beach planning director, said. “We had a lot of mom-and-pop boarding houses.”
Coleman said she doesn’t know if the city even has a boarding house that is actively operating, but there is an allowance for them in the zoning ordinance if someone wanted to open one.
Many of the international students who live in city limits are staying in converted motels, which are defined differenlty from boarding houses under city law.
J-1 students can find more information about seasonal housing on the Myrtle Beach International Student Online Guide website.
Every Tuesday and Wednesday evening during the summer Seacoast Vineyard Church provides meals and activities for J-1 students.