Saturday, January 20, 2018
News Roundup

Beach cities battle illegal short-term rentals

ST. PETE BEACH — Renting single-family homes or condominiums to tourists for a day, week or month is against the rules in many beach communities, but hundreds of homeowners are violating those rules.

Residents and business owners in St. Pete Beach and Madeira Beach are increasingly complaining to their city officials about disruptions to residential neighborhoods and lost revenues among hotels and inns.

"This is seriously cutting into businesses that pay taxes on transient rentals," John Brooks-Murray, co-owner of the Bay Waters Inn, told the St. Pete Beach City Commission last week.

He said he found "hundreds of rentals in nontransient areas" online that are being rented by the day or week.

Some homes are rented for more than $500 a night — a rental income that can reach into the tens of thousands over the course of a year.

An Internet search for vacation rentals in just St. Pete Beach on Tuesday yielded hundreds of homes and bungalows available for rent by the day or week at rates ranging from nearly $10,000 a week to as little as $50-$100 a night.

"This is a problem up and down the beaches for years. The Internet has compounded the problem of short-term rentals exponentially," City Manager Mike Bonfield told the commission.

He said homeowners can make a lot of money on such vacation rentals, which are particularly attractive to those who are upside-down on their mortgages.

The city currently allows single-family homes to be rented for less than 30 days only three times a year.

Violations of the city's codes are difficult to enforce because the city must prove when the fourth rental occurred and have neighbors or the renters willing to testify.

Madeira Beach is having similar problems and plans to hold a special meeting in January to discuss how to deal with illegal transient renters.

That city's codes prohibit single-family homes from being rented for less than six months at a time and low density multifamily homes for less than three months at a time.

Neighboring Treasure Island's codes are a bit more lenient regarding short-term rentals and requires landlords to have business tax receipts, but even that city has continuing problems with illegal rentals.

Currently, the city is investigating five complaints of short-term rentals. The city also regularly checks online ads for short-term rentals.

In Treasure Island single-family homes can be rented for any period of time only twice a year. In denser residential districts, such as in Sunset Beach, homeowners are allowed to rent their homes up to six times a year.

Drake Philbrook was one of dozens of homeowners in Madeira Beach's Baypoint neighborhood to bring their complaints to the commission recently.

He said he found dozens of websites advertising "more than 50 houses, apartments, cottages and rooms" and "over 100 condos" in Madeira Beach that are available by the day, week or month.

"We think that short-term renters are not screened and this results in an increase in illegal activity — drugs, theft, prostitution, partying and noise violations," Philbrook said. "We do not want transient renters in our residential areas.

He said one home on his street rents for $400 a night, while "some properties are bringing in more than $100,000 a year in short-term rental income."

Philbrook said renters are "coached" to tell anyone knocking at their door that they are a family member staying in the house.

Madeira Beach City Manager Shane Crawford said he had not been aware of the extent of the issue, but pledged to address it.

He has already met with sheriff's deputies who enforce the city's codes about future investigative strategies.

"We need to go in and rent some of these places and do interviews," Crawford said.

Commissioners in St. Pete Beach and Madeira Beach urged residents to report violations, hoping that an enforcement crackdown on violators will help reduce the problem.

But they also acknowledged what will help even more is a change in state law.

Since June 2011, local governments are limited to enforcing their existing rules. The law specifically prohibits governments from making any tougher rules regulating how homeowners can rent their properties.

"Even if we wanted to tighten up our ordinance, we are prohibited from doing that by state law," Bonfield cautioned. "Right now it is just a handful of people that are creating the problem, but there is little we can do."

The Florida League of Cities favors repealing the law, according to Bonfield.

So far, at least one legislator, state Sen. John Thrasher of St. Augustine, is hoping to do just that. He is chairman of the Senate Rules Committee and a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee.

Thrasher said recently that he plans to file a bill repealing the 2011 law to give local governments back the power to regulate short-term rentals of residential properties.

Comments
U.S. government shuts down; Democrats, GOP blame each other

U.S. government shuts down; Democrats, GOP blame each other

WASHINGTON — The federal government shut down at the stroke of midnight Friday, halting all but the most essential operations and marring the one-year anniversary of President Donald Trump’s inauguration in a striking display of Washington dysfunctio...
Updated: 2 hours ago

High school scoreboard for Jan. 19

Friday’s scoreboardBoys soccerIndian Rocks Christian 2, Lakewood 1Lennard 3, Spoto 0Girls soccerPCAC Championship: Largo 3, Osceola 1Lennard 8, Spoto 0
Updated: 4 hours ago

Four people linked to Tampa carjacking captured hours later

TAMPA — It took officers just 27 minutes Friday night to capture four people who they said stole a car from its owner.The incident started outside the Ybor Coffee Shop at 5:45 a.m. A group approached the driver as he sat in his 2010 Toyota Corolla. T...
Updated: 4 hours ago
Inspector General launches investigation into Tampa Bay’s local career centers

Inspector General launches investigation into Tampa Bay’s local career centers

The state has opened an investigation into CareerSource Pinellas and CareerSource Tampa Bay, days after the Tampa Bay Times asked about whether the two regional job centers were inflating the number of people they had helped get hired. The agencies, ...
Updated: 5 hours ago

Florida National Guard soldier killed, five injured in Sebring crash

SEBRING — A soldier with the Florida National Guard was killed and five others were hospitalized after a multi-vehicle crash on Friday, officials said.The crash took place at about 1 p.m. at the intersection of U.S. 27 and Hammock Road.The soldiers ...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Two New Port Richey men accused of stealing $11,000 in cellphone merchandise

Two New Port Richey men accused of stealing $11,000 in cellphone merchandise

NEW PORT RICHEY — Two New Port Richey men face charges after Pasco County deputies say they stole about $11,000 worth of cellphones and cellphone equipment at a Metro PCS store on State Road 54.Robert Jackson and Ronald Hartshorn were arrested Wednes...
Updated: 6 hours ago
U.S. Attorney: Tampa woman uses soul food restaurant as part of scheme to steals thousands

U.S. Attorney: Tampa woman uses soul food restaurant as part of scheme to steals thousands

TAMPA — The owner of a soul and seafood restaurant is facing more than 10 years in federal prison for filing dozens of false tax returns and stealing thousands of dollars, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.Natalie Rene Panko, 57, owner of Ladie...
Updated: 6 hours ago
That noise you hear from MacDill is low-flying A-10 Warthogs in training

That noise you hear from MacDill is low-flying A-10 Warthogs in training

TAMPA — If you hear loud noises coming from MacDill Air Force Base over the next few days, don’t be alarmed.It’s the sound of flying hogs.A squadron of A-10C Warthogs, beloved by troops in the field for their ability to swoop low and slow and tear ap...
Updated: 6 hours ago
Autopsy: drugs found in MLB star Roy Halladay’s system after plane crash

Autopsy: drugs found in MLB star Roy Halladay’s system after plane crash

When former Major League Baseball pitcher Roy Halladay died in a plane crash in November, he had amphetamines, morphine and the sleep aid zolpidem in his system, according to an autopsy report.Halladay, 40, died from blunt force trauma with drowning ...
Updated: 6 hours ago
USF leaders move to calm fears over consolidation plan

USF leaders move to calm fears over consolidation plan

ST. PETERSBURG — Holding a piece of computer paper and a microphone, the leader of the University of South Florida St. Petersburg began a Friday afternoon forum by repeating the USF administration’s new mantra.He reassured the crowd before him that t...
Updated: 6 hours ago