Legislators to look for quick fix of short-term rental problems
Local legislators will spend the next month studying the short-term rental problem in Pinellas County's beach communities and present possible solutions to the Pinellas County Legislative Delegation in January.
Sen. Jack Latvala appointed newly elected Rep. Ben Diamond, an attorney, and Rep. Kathleen Peters, who's fielded complaints from residents, to the task at Friday's delegation meeting.
A handful of Redington Beach residents over the last several months have urged the elected officials to take action as more vacation homes sprout along the affluent, residential strip on the Gulf.
“Our life is holy hell, it has been now for the past year,” said Steve Fields, who lives next door to an eight-bedroom mansion used as a short-term rental. “(They) have parties all night long, karaoke into the night. We were waking up at 2:45 on Thanksgiving morning... I don't know what else to do.”
A 2011 state law, amended in 2014, took away cities' ability to regulate the duration and frequency of short-term rentals. Cities with bans already in place were grandfathered in, but changing even a word in existing ordinances will void the laws entirely.
Although Redington Beach passed an ordinance in 2008 banning rentals shorter than six months, vacation houses are thriving because town officials have opted not to enforce its law out of fear of being sued.
Mayor Nick Simons said the former town attorney mistakenly told the commission in 2008 the city did not need to take its ordinance to a referendum to become law. After a homeowner sued the city in 2013 challenging the constitutionality of the ordinance, and ultimately settled on terms allowing them to rent under certain conditions, current town attorney Jay Daigneault advised officials not to enforce the ban to avoid future costly lawsuits.
But on Friday, some legislators saw this as more of an isolated problem in one beach community and not a county-wide issue worthy of a change in state law.
“Anybody in the entire public can come talk, and we've had three people come say they have a problem with vacation rentals in a community whose lifeblood is tourism,” Sen. Jeff Brandes said. “I think we need to be very delicate in how we deal with it.”
Rep. Wengay Newton added licensed vacation homes also generate tax revenue for local governments and contribute to the economy.
Indian Rocks Beach Mayor R.B. Johnson said his city struggles with vacation homes in residential neighborhoods because the city lost its short-term rental ban in 2011 when officials tried to change the wording.
Johnson has said the state's move to take away cities' power to regulate vacation homes goes against the spirit of home rule. But other cities struggling with tourism in residential neighborhoods have controlled parties and disturbances through regulating noise, trash and occupancy instead.
Latvala asked Diamond and Peters to bring a "proposed bill or recommendations" on how to deal with the issue for the upcoming Legislative session.
"I want to see this problem solved this year," Latvala said.