LARGO — City officials haven't gotten many complaints regarding troublesome short-term rentals, but commissioners have heard enough horror stories from neighboring cities and towns that they don't want to push their luck.
State law prohibits local governments from adopting rules prohibiting vacation rentals from operating, so city leaders recently agreed to instruct city staff to prepare an ordinance adopting four new regulations that could prevent the kind of problems that have plagued nearby cities.
Assistant City Attorney Nikki Day presented commissioners with nine possible regulations that don't violate the state's pre-emption on short-term rentals, which are defined as any condos or homes that are four or fewer units that are rented to guests more than three times per year for 30 days or less.
Commissioners ended up settling on four: maximum occupancy limits, parking requirements, minimum life/safety requirements and requiring a local "Designated Responsible Party" whose contact information must be posted on site and can respond to complaints within two hours.
Commissioner Jamie Robinson initially called for the city to adopt all nine regulations, which also included requiring property owners to have business tax receipts and additional certificates of registration and licenses.
"Tallahassee and legislators will not do anything to correct the issue that they have allowed," Robinson said. "So, since we do have some capabilities to regulate, I'd say let's get them in place now. We know that they are effective, there are other municipalities that are currently using them and I think we can go ahead and kind of hopefully correct any issues that we do have and prevent any other issues from coming."
Commissioner Samantha Fenger didn't agree.
Fenger, who is a Realtor at Imapp Realty Group, said she wanted the commission to hear from property owners or Realtor associations first because some of the proposed regulations might deter people from wanting to purchase a property.
"It's a property rights issue, and I wouldn't support all nine of those," she said. "I don't think we are in the business to regulate … what to do with your land."
Fenger also noted that the city has only heard complaints about one troublesome vacation rental, a mansion in the Kent Place area.
The 5,000-square-foot home at 2401 Margolin Lane, which is advertised on Airbnb as a "Super scorching Red Hot Mansion" where you can "live like a Rockstar," has produced multiple complaints from neighbors.
In 2016, a police report noted that officers responded to a house party complaint at the property and observed approximately 75 juveniles crammed into the house. Police said they then shut the lights off and taunted officers by chanting "'F' the police."
Mayor Woody Brown agreed with Fenger that one property shouldn't dictate how Largo treats all of the short-term rentals in the city.
"I think we have to keep in mind the hundreds, most likely, of VRBOs (vacation rental by owners) or short-term rentals that are in the city that operate very quietly and very nicely and they don't have any effect on their neighbors," Brown said.
Brown said he lived next to a vacation rental for five years and never had a complaint, so he would hate to punish responsible property owners by overburdening them with regulations.
"I think that where there's properties that are a problem, we need to use the tools that we have and maybe enhance some of those tools," he said, referring to proposed regulations like maximum occupancy limits. "But I think that the vast majority of short-term rentals in Largo aren't a nightmare in their neighborhoods. So, I'd like to do something about those that are, but not diminish the ability for somebody to rent their house or have a short-term rental."
Robinson said he supports the regulations because, even though the city doesn't have the staff to enforce them on every vacation rental, he thinks they would give code enforcement the ability to better deal with problem properties.
"I think the purpose of these would be enforcement," he said.
After discussing the nine possibilities, commissioners compromised on four that would bolster code enforcement efforts without taxing staff.
City Manager Henry Schubert said staff would work out the details and draft an ordinance, which would go before Planning and Community Development Advisory boards before returning to first reading for the commission.