ST. PETE BEACH — Despite promises not to become "bedroom police," the city is considering limiting the number of nonrelated people who can live in single-family homes. The issue involves neighbor complaints that more than a dozen people are living in homes designed for small families.
"We have investigated complaints where as many as 10 to 12 individuals were residing in a 1,200-square-foot home," Community Development Director Karl Holley told the City Commission Tuesday.
Up to 15 people are living in one home on 78th Avenue, according to neighbors. Holley said as many as seven people are living in tiny 800-square-foot apartments on the same street.
"The homeowner was providing shelter for homeless people. We were successful in getting the owner to clean up the yard and move a clothesline to the back yard, but the people are still there," Holley said Friday.
Without a new definition of a "family," the city cannot regulate the number of people living in a home or apartment, he said.
Holley wants the city to ban more than four nonrelated people from living in single-family homes, or in individual apartments and condominium units.
Many other cities have similar restrictions, he said.
In Treasure Island and Madeira Beach, for example, a family in one home cannot have more than three people who are unrelated by birth, adoption or marriage.
Pinellas County puts a limit of six unrelated people living in any one home. The city's proposed ordinance defines a "family" living together in a single-family unit as "one or more individuals related by blood, marriage or adoption" or as "four or less unrelated individuals."
In other words, there is no restriction on the number of related family members, but if the people are not related, there can be no more than four living in one home.
The request caught some commissioners by surprise.
"That is another interesting enforcement opportunity for the police isn't it?" asked Mayor Michael Finnerty, stressing he supported the idea but was unsure the city could enforce it.
City Manager Mike Bonfield acknowledged it would "not be easy to enforce" the family size rule.
"Does this give us the right to go into somebody's house and count bedrooms and ask for birth certificates?" asked Commissioner Linda Chaney.
When Holley said it would not, she then asked how the city planned to enforce the new rules.
"Realistically, this is really quite laughable," said Chaney. "We can't even get people to maintain the outside of a house and now we are trying to control what goes on inside a house?"
But Commissioner Harry Metz was strongly in favor of the new rule.
"One house in Vina del Mar has seven vehicles in front of it. They were all college students," Metz said.
At another home he said people would start showing up at 5 p.m. with shoulder bags. "The next morning 15 or 20 of them would walk out," he said.
Commissioners Al Halpern and Chaney cited similar situations in their districts where large numbers of "migrant" and "hotel" workers are living together in single-family homes.
"In the eyes of the city this is not the most desirable situation to have all those people in one house," Finnerty said.
Commissioners were concerned, however, that families wanting to take in unrelated foster children might be prohibited from doing so under the proposed ordinance. They also want the new rules on family size to consider the size of the home or apartment and to honor any existing leases.
The commission asked Holley to rewrite the ordinance and bring it back to its March 10 meeting.
Holley said Friday that any investigations of the number of people living in a home would be complaint-based.
First, he said, the city would contact the property owner to find out who is under a lease agreement and how many people are supposed to be residing in the home.The next step would be to contact the people actually residing in the home.
"Typically, people are pretty honest and the best way is to just go and ask. But if we feel more investigation or observation is needed, we can take sworn testimony from neighbors and ask them to keep a log. In severe cases, we could get an administrative warrant from Circuit Court to start counting beds," Holley said.
"I understand citizens being concerned about government being intrusive," Holley said.