INDIAN ROCKS BEACH — After a meeting that lasted four hours before a full house, city commissioners recently unanimously passed on first reading of an ordinance designed to control short-term rentals.
Numerous residents spoke on the issue on both sides.
City Attorney Randy Mora was instrumental in drafting the ordinance, which he said came after long and extensive consultation with representatives from the community and other governments facing the same issues over short-term rentals.
"This is not the first time we’ve dealt with this," he said. "This comes after two years and many meetings."
Residents have been complaining that organizations such as Airbnb have turned residential neighborhoods into pockets of small businesses with renters coming in and out at all hours and having late-night parties when they are trying to sleep.
Local politicians say they are powerless to stop it because of Florida law, which generally prohibits cities from regulating short-term rentals. However, they are able to pass ordinances that make it more difficult for such businesses to operate in residential neighborhoods.
The city’s ordinance includes such things as fines for failing to acquire a business license and for breaking other local rules and regulations pertaining to trash, noise and parking.
Resident Bill Thomas, who rents a room in his house, complained that parts of the ordinance are illegal and should be scrapped.
"Several items in this ordinance are in conflict with the laws in Tallahassee and should be taken out," he said. "This is a deterrent."
Gordon Williamson wondered how this is allowed at all.
"How are they allowed to be in a residential neighborhood in the first place," he asked. "They should not be allowed, it is that simple."
Resident Kelly Cisarik said she had a solution to part of the problem.
"This ordinance lacks teeth," she said. "A lot of people do a good job, others do not. Make sure they have a license number that must be identified in any advertising, that way we can see who is legitimate."
Commissioners agreed with Cisarik and included her suggestion in an amended ordinance.
Several residents spoke of the disruption short-term rentals cause to their way of life. Among those who spoke to that was Robert Klemmer.
"I live next door to two Airbnb houses and it is like a revolving door," he said. "Renters don’t care about trash. The recycle bins are out there all day with the plastic bottles blowing all over the neighborhood. The residential neighborhood has turned into a business district."
Jo Hammond said living next to a short-term rental property was tough for her.
"It is an absolute nightmare, nonstop with two or three families there at once," she said.
Resident Hugh Burton told commissioners that things were getting worse.
"Over the last three years I have seen more people, more trash and more noise," he said. "I don’t know where they are coming from; I know renters don’t respect property."
Former Commissioner Jim Labadie, who lives in a residential neighborhood and operates a short-term rental motel on the Gulf, said the problem could be solved with a little effort by the neighbors.
"I have a short-term rental house next to me, and I try to meet the people who rent," he said. "I talk to them and ask them to respect the neighborhood. I haven’t had any problem with them. Just try talking to them; they are just families who want a nice stay"
Labadie did admit that he doesn’t like the short term rentals in the neighborhoods.
"I feel like it is devaluing my property," he said. "It is hurting the people who worked so hard to get their homes."
He blamed Florida Legislature for causing the problem.
Once the residents had their say it was back to the commissioners to weigh in. First Mora reminded them that there was no way to eliminate the short-term rentals. Florida law prevented it.
"That ship has sailed," he said. "No system is perfect but we are trying to adapt to reality."
Several residents complained about the number of people allowed to stay in a house. One example was a small home advertising that it could hold 21 people.
Mora said there was an issue with regulating the occupancy. He said to avoid legal issues they decided to leave that out of the ordinance.
Much the same was said about the number of vehicles that could be part of the rental. Consequently, that was not included.
Commissioner Phil Hanna said he understood why people want to rent their homes or bedrooms.
"I talked to one woman who knew that a neighbor got $1,500 for three days rental," he said. "I can understand with that much money at stake why people do it."
Mayor Cookie Kennedy ended the discussion with a shot at the state legislators who won’t allow local communities to pass their own laws to regulate short term rentals.
"Ideology has been misplaced by power," she said. "They are a mockery up there. You can’t have a decent conversation with anybody there especially over this issue."