Court unanimously finds against McMaster

Kathryn, to whom I think the topic is near and dear, brings this to my attention:

Former state Attorney General Henry McMaster on Monday lost his legal challenge as a landlord of Columbia’s law that barred students from creating mini-dormitories in residential neighborhoods.

In a 5-0 vote, the S.C. Supreme Court rejected McMaster’s argument that the city’s zoning ordinance capping at three the number of unrelated people who may share a residence. McMaster, through his PJM Properties, contends the ordinance violated the state constitution’s due process clause…

For those who wish to delve deeper, here’s a copy of the actual decision.

31 thoughts on “Court unanimously finds against McMaster

  1. tired old man

    I guess that, sadly, McMaster will now appeal thru the federal courts — keeping his slum lord profits and pushing off any penalties unto his next generation.

    The man and his family are urban blights — who enjoy all the social and economic advantages.

    Bad karma accruing, however. Someone in the family must have the recessive genetics for a conscience.

  2. tired old man

    OK, Brad. You are too much the gentleman to permit the above. But, really, when do we admit the truth?

  3. Brad

    That was borderline, but I did allow it. And now I wonder… does this mean I am not a gentleman?

    I will go on the record as saying that I do not believe that Henry, or his family, are a blight of any kind, urban or otherwise. In my opinion, that is a bit much…

  4. `Kathryn Fenner

    Well, Brad, come on a tour of my hood sometime. Mr. Man, or is it Old-Man, is on the mark, blightwise.

    Oddly, the slumlords of our hood, some of whom have sold up and left, a few years back, all had their daughters and sons in the Assembly Ball or the Cotillion–one of those debutante dos. Same as it ever was–downright Dickensian!

  5. Doug Ross


    Have you read Mr. McMaster’s testimony in the case? Have you heard the stories about the practices he engages in as a landlord?

    He knew what the law was and appears to have ignored it for the sole purpose of increasing his income. To do that in his position is completely unacceptable. He should be erring on the side of the strictest interpretation of the law.

  6. j

    Tired old man says “The man and his family are urban blights — who enjoy all the social and economic advantages.” I agree with that statement as far as seeking economic advantages and know of instances of his receiving advantages which increased the value of his single family “dorm”and his home next door.

  7. Brad

    Y’all are missing the point. I’m not arguing facts here. I’m simply saying that to call a man, AND his family, a “blight” is a bit much. It’s not quite the thing, you know.

  8. tired old man

    Worrying this thread a bit more, the family actions (or inactions) do and have created urban blight — especially when juxataposed against efforts to brighten neighborhoods. There is the Gibbes Court complex near Five Points on the university side of the train tracks. Stubbornly coexisting with modernized units that have elevators for multiple floors moulder the McMaster tentaments, that seem to lack AC and any restriction on the number of tenants.

    And Henry continues to draw a six-figure salary, first from the taxpayers for his role as being the state’s attorney general and from USC to do something of the other.

    — TOM

  9. Doug Ross

    So is McMaster a little bit wrong on this or very wrong? Have you heard the stories about his leasing practices? Do you believe they have some potential truth to them? If so, how can this man serve as Attorney General?

  10. Doug Ross

    Here’s one of those cases where you seem very reluctant to actually process the facts of the case because they might impact you’re strongly held opinions of McMaster.

  11. `Kathryn Fenner

    Well, I would ordinarily say his family should be off limits, but until fairly recently, he and his family engaged in a shell game of mix and match entities to avoid paying for a business license for owning more than four rental units. It was quite a display of permutations 9or combinations–I can never remember the difference). He also opposed the Code Enforcement Task Force’s recommendation that a paltry $11 a year license be required of all landlords, because it would be too intrusive to have a landlord’s books be available for city audit (bearing in mind that if you own 5 or more units, you do have to comply). He, his wife, brother and children owned far more than four units, but took advantage of the loophole.
    I agree, Doug. He should have been Caesar’s wife, not Peggy’s husband.

  12. Doug Ross

    This article from the Free Times gives a very clear picture of the man who is supposed to be the top legal counsel for the people of South Carolina:

    He knows the law, he broke the law. His actions in this case are unethical at best. If he doesn’t like the law, comply with it until it is changed.

    We need to hold politicians to a higher standard of behavior not a lower one.

  13. Mark Stewart

    Well, I’ve got a different tack here.

    The imposition of a “law” saying that a house cannot hold more than three unrelated adults is one of those things that ends up doing more harm than good. It is particularly galling when the “law” is only enforced against one class of people – university students – and in one single geographic location.

    Clearly there are many owners who have chosen to run dreary rental operations – and many students who have chosen to reside in these places. But that is not the issue here.

    I am not saying that zoning isn’t a valid, and purposeful, government power. But it does seem clear that this is one of those places where the process has been driven off the rails. Is the real issue the condition of the houses? If so, than address that condition issue and leave the other variables the freedom to adjust to that requirement. If the issue is to limit the density of students in the area immediately surrounding the university, then either the school is in the wrong place or the neighbors who object to the kids are.

  14. Doug Ross


    But you would agree that landlords must follow the law until it is changed, right? And that someone in the position of Attorney General should probably exercise even greater care in ensuring that the laws are followed?

    I mean we wouldn’t want to think that the Attorney General doesn’t feel all the laws apply to him and his family, right?

  15. j

    Tom, et. al. you’re right on. The situation is “why should he (or his wife) be treated differently than the apartment complex “business entity” just southeast and catercorner from his principle residence? The apartment “business” is just a stones throw from their single family “dorm.”

  16. `Kathryn Fenner

    The houses were here long before the university was so huge. The university needs to provide on campus housing, with adequate parking for its students, and not export its overflow to our lovely historic neighborhood. Density from students results in a severe parking shortage and students are especially bad about being tidy, quiet neighbors.
    The Zoning Department enforces all complaints it gets. My view of zoning, as is theirs, is, if no one detects a problem, it’s not a problem. The rules apply to everyone, but if there should happen to be two unrelated elderly people with two unrelated, live-in caregivers, no one knows about it. I doubt such a property would have loud parties, loud comings and goings, large numbers of visitors, etc.

  17. Mark Stewart

    Doug – Yes, the law is the law. I just said that in this case it’s been applied in a round-about way that doesn’t get at what people really see as the problem.

    Kathryn’s comment nicely illustrates this: it would appear that the real problem is that students have nowhere to park and that students are sometimes loud, sociable neighbors.

    She also said that the other non-conforming uses are okay because nobody notices. So I’m with Doug on that one.

  18. j

    The only parking for his single family dorm is on-street parking on Senate Street unless the students have rented spaces at the two nearby parking garages if USC even does that now. But given the parking situation in that area, students have been parking down on Barnwell Street north of Gervais at a USC surface parking facility and all around the old BellSouth facility there. They used to run a Shuttle Cock from that area to campus.

    Even the former Atty Gen has one pull-off parking spot on the side of his house and his pool is behind the primary residence where one would normally park. You used to see one of his other vehicles and his state car parked on Senate St in front of his house.

    The point is that he is and has been treated differently from others in that area. I can personally cite a gross & financially significant advantage but that would be too revealing and may cause problems.

  19. Steven Davis

    Anyone who has lived in Shandon knows this is a good law. Helicopter parents these days view it as shameful to allow their little prince or princess live in a college dorm room. Must buy a house/condo for Jr./Pookie to live in.

  20. `Kathryn Fenner

    Mark–Our neighborhood was developed before cars, and at best, a property might have room for two cars. What possible solution could there be?

    Student renters are also frequently, but certainly not always, lazy about making sure their refuse goes where it belongs.

    If a zoning violation happens in a forest and no one’s around, does it matter? That’s what I’m saying. Zoning is about setting some ground rules for how your use of your property may bleed out and affect your neighbor’s fair use of his. Student renters, in denser habitations, unfairly affect less dense users. As the Court pointed out, it doesn’t have to be every one–but there’s plenty of evidence that for a rational law-maker to conclude that more than three unrelated persons in a dwelling unit puts an undue strain on the system.

  21. `Kathryn Fenner

    Actually, Steven, fwiw, I suspect a lot of parents who can afford to buy little Tripp or Mary Baldwin a house in Shandon or University Hill are doing it as much for the investment as anything else. If you are in a high income bracket, it’s a good way to make money/transfer assets and, market-willing, house the kids for free.

  22. Steven Davis

    Kathryn, they’ll just do what they did in Shandon. Park in the street or in the front yard. That law about banning parking in yards is a joke.

  23. `Kathryn Fenner

    Well, FYP, as we lovingly call it, has been sticky to enforce. Finally they got cross-enforcement–other department’s employees, who were on the street more than zoning officials enforce it, too. Mostly, the neighborhood association bugs the officials.

    Shandon is slightly different from U Hill–larger lots, smaller houses (for the most part), and longer driveways–there’s not quite the pressure there that there is over here–many houses truly have no driveway or a one car driveway-let, and space for one car, maybe in front. That’s it. Shandon is a lot bigger, and thus harder for a few people on the N’hood Assoc. to police. We can pretty much keep and eye on things with 9 members of the exec. council. Did you ever call anything in, for example? We find that few residents will call things in on their own.

  24. Silence

    @ Kathryn,
    I live in Cottontown, and we have a similar situation, although nowhere near as bad as over by the university. Most of the houses have enough room for 1-2 cars max, and many have been duplexed or triplexed over the years. We don’t get much parking in yards, but it does narrow the streets down, and I’ve had my driveway blocked once or twice. I believe the ordinance is that they have to leave you 6 feet on either side of your driveway. Over the years I’ve been a huge supporter of returning houses to a single family status, and preferably an owner occupied one. So much for mixed use, in practice.

  25. Brad

    I haven’t done that in awhile, and am not at my computer right now. Send me a picture (, I’ll put it up, then post the instructions…

  26. `Kathryn Fenner

    @ Silence– Don’t they paint your curbs? YOu can have a car towed — call the police–if it blocks your driveway or parks at a yellow curb. If the curbs aren’t painted, call John David Spade at parking–he can tell you what to do about that. Dunno about the 6 feet–there is a space in front of my house, with yellow curb of maybe 3 feet?

    Mixed use isn’t the same thing as over-occupancy or overly dense. Mixed use could be a coffee bar at the corner, or a deli/grocery/bar? Maybe live/work units….but still with adequate parking for the likely uses.

  27. Mark Stewart

    So I’m still confused why only three people can live in a house as the real issue seems to simply be parking. The houses themselves were designed to accommodate large families. Many seem ideal for communal student housing. That just seems natural to me. I also see why older people would want to live there as well. So everyone just has to be a good neighbor. To me that also means accepting the reality of the neighborhood’s location and attraction.

    I thought a big part of the appeal of the neighborhood was not having to drive to school? It seems pretty clear that density in an urban area is fairly desirable. This has long been the trend; look at the size of the house lots around the campus in comparison with other areas of Columbia of the same vintage. People have always accepted small lots for the trade-off of being adjacent to the university.

Comments are closed.