As Summer is officially underway, and many Americans begin planning vacations for the first time in over a year, vacation rental properties are quickly booking up, particularly in vacation destinations along the South Carolina coast. With many vacation rental property owners residing in a different city or state as the location of the property utilized by vacation renters, it is important to consider duties owed to guests of a vacation rental property throughout the year, and more importantly, before the peak of this vacation season.
South Carolina has a peculiar statute applicable to vacation rental properties. Section 27-50-250(B) of the South Carolina Code provides, in relevant part, that “[n]o action may be brought against an owner or rental management company by a tenant for any damages or injuries that occur as a result of property defects of which an owner or rental company had no actual knowledge.” Outside the Vacation Rental Act, a premises operator could be liable for injuries that occur as a result of a defect of which the owner had actual or constructive knowledge. The standard set by statute heightens the burden on a person making a claim for personal injuries sustained as a result of property defects requiring that the individual show that the property owner (or management company) had actual knowledge of the alleged defect.
While the language appears clear, there is little in the way of case law (including trial court opinions) that interpret and apply the heightened standard. A single, unpublished opinion from the Federal Court has addressed the language of the Vacation Rental Act and the statutory protection provided to vacation rental property owners and management companies. In that case, Plaintiff fell from an elevated, wood walkway on the premises after the railing gave way without warning. Plaintiff alleged the wood walkway and railing was deteriorated. Evidence in the record included the property owner’s acknowledgement of his awareness that that beach front property is subject to wear and tear; and expert opinions that the “deterioration didn’t happen over-night.” The Court held that questions of fact existed as to whether the property owner had actual knowledge of the purported defect. The court ultimately denied the vacation property owner and management company’s motions for summary judgment. While the Court seemingly relied upon evidence that is typically used to support constructive notice, without additional case law interpreting the specific provision of the Vacation Rental Act, there may be differing opinions of what constitutes actual knowledge. Vacation Rental Property Owners and management companies should take care now, ahead of the anticipated busy travel season, to inspect the premises to ensure that any defects are cured.
 Poage v. Thomas Real Estate, Inc., 2013 WL 1901168 (D.S.C. May 6, 2013).