ST. PETE BEACH — Resident and hotelier Ron Holehouse must formally reply by today to the city's request to inspect his home for an alleged illegal tourist lodging unit or face possible fines of up to $500 a day.
Holehouse acknowledges he rents part of his home, as well as an apartment over a detached garage behind his house, to tourists. But he insists both rental units are legal and fully licensed. He says he is being unfairly targeted by the city.
According to the Pinellas County property appraiser, 85 percent of Holehouse's home is homesteaded, while the remaining area is taxed at a higher rate because of its use for tourist lodging.
At issue is a suite called "The Loft" that is advertised as one of several rooms available for rent on a website for Inn on the Beach, a Pass-a-Grille hotel also owned by Holehouse.
The Loft is actually an addition above a garage attached to the Holehouse home built with city approval in 1997.
Karl Holley, the city's director of community development, says Holehouse "inherited the grandfathered right" to rent to tourists when he purchased the property in 1996.
Holley said that by using the main building at 113 12th Ave. as his home and legal residence — and failing to rent it to tourists for 90 consecutive days — Holehouse lost that grandfathered use.
Because the city has no evidence that Holehouse ever stopped renting a detached garage unit, that use remains legal, Holley also said.
Over the years there have been repeated reports that Holehouse was renting space in his home, but no action was taken.
But in January 2010 and then again on Friday, the city asked Holehouse to "immediately cease the transient occupancy of any portion of your residential structure."
Holehouse said after receiving the 2010 letter, he and city officials discussed "at length" his contention the Loft is a legal tourist rental unit. The "reason the city has never followed up" on the alleged illegal use, Holehouse said, is that the tourist units are, in fact, legal.
Holehouse said Monday a "basement type unit" the city says he may also be renting to tourists is actually a ground-floor room he renovated for his son.
The city is also questioning two doors on the side of the attached garage it says were installed without a building permit.
Two weeks ago, the city sent a notice of violation to Holehouse demanding that he obtain a permit and allow city officials to enter and "inspect" his home to determine whether it contains an illegal living unit.
Thursday, Holley sent another letter warning Holehouse that he could be referred to the city's special magistrate in early August if he does not comply with the requirements of the violation notice.
The magistrate has the ability to fine up to $250 per violation for noncompliance with city rules.
Citing pictures of the Loft posted on the Internet and a statement from a tourist, Holley said the evidence "seems to indicate that renting of this space is an ongoing business enterprise contrary to the city's determination provided to you in January of 2010."
Holley offered to discuss the issues with Holehouse, but urged that he "immediately cease" renting his home to tourists, remove any improvements not allowed in single family homes and obtain required permits.
Holehouse declined Monday to say how he plans to respond to the city's allegations.
"I will be accountable for whatever I do that is wrong, but these allegations are unfounded," Holehouse said.