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Madeira Beach searching for solutions to short-term rental problems

MADEIRA BEACH — Rats crawling through piles of garbage bags on the street, dozens of rowdy people crowding into a single-family home for weekend getaways, loud music, offensive language and taunting.

That is just some of what Madeira Beach residents put up with when neighboring houses are rented illegally to out-of-town tourists.

The city vowed almost a year ago to crack down on short-term rentals in single family neighborhoods.

But just last week, those same officials acknowledged that the problem is worse, not better.

And again, they say the solution is to get tough on property owners who violate city zoning codes.

Any homes rented for less than three months, or six months in certain zoning districts, are done so illegally.

The problem exists throughout the city and prompts daily and weekly complaints to City Hall.

"We have had people renting by the week next to us for four years," said Mimi Anglni." Last weekend we called the sheriff because partying kids screamed for hours. They told the deputy that they were relatives and not renters. After the deputy left they continued to make as much noise as they could and yelled at us to go back to Ohio."

But just how extensive the problem is, no one is really sure.

"We know who they are," said City Manager Shane Crawford. "We were absolutely able to shut down a lot of it. But there is only so much we can do with existing staff."

The city has one deputy enforcing all zoning code violations, including investigating complaints about short-term rentals.

"A number of people have no idea they are violating the law and are anxious to comply with the rules," Crawford said. "But we also have a number of people who break their oath to not do it again."

Crawford said more bodies are needed to make a real difference in the city's neighborhoods.

He said adding another deputy to the city's law enforcement contract, at a cost of about $100,000, could happen soon.

Vice Mayor Elaine Poe, long an advocate of eliminating short-term rentals in the city, plans to offer a budget amendment in order to hire that additional deputy immediately instead of waiting until the start of the next fiscal year Oct. 1.

Crawford said even this expedited process could take up to two months.

He feels expanded enforcement of the short-term rental ban should make a significant difference.

"There won't be a grace period anymore," Crawford said, "and we will be charging tougher, cumulative fees on violators."

Mayor Travis Palladeno cautioned against putting in place rules that cannot be enforced or that cast a negative image on the city as a tourist destination.

Commissioner Terry Lister warned that the expanded enforcement could become a "money pit" without producing real results.

The commission may also consider sharply hiking other fines to as much as $10,000 or $20,000 for multiple violations. Barring Realtors who handle illegal short-term rentals from operating in the city was also discussed.

Crawford indicated he will schedule a future workshop to discuss the short-term rental issue.

Officials acknowledge the biggest issue in cutting down on the number of illegal renters is proving that they are, in fact, short-term renters and not a family member of the homeowner.

"They are very smart and know what to say," Crawford said.