State and local authorities struggle to strike a balance on regulating short-term rentals

At a city commission meeting last fall in Indian Rocks Beach, Pinellas County, a local resident by Jerry Newton frustration was evident. The problem? Short term vacation rentals in its community.

“Yet another month has passed,” Newton said. “In the meantime, there are more hotel rooms and more unfamiliar faces every day next to our homes. It’s starting to look like our city leaders aren’t willing to do anything about this cancer. And the answer that “our hands are tied” will not suffice.”

Jean Pfanstiehlwho has lived in Indian Rocks Beach for more than 30 years, agrees, saying vacation rental homes in his neighborhood are frequented by transients who he says are “destroying” the community.

“Residential doesn’t make sense if you allow walk-in housing,” he told the Phoenix in an interview last week. “They are really destroying what was once a peaceful and safe community.”

Now, after months of heightened rhetoric at City Hall, the Mayor of Indian Rocks Beach Cookie Kennedy and city commissioners are preparing to unveil proposed new regulations, which is now causing concern among vacation rental owners.

These owners fear that the new measures will go too far and reduce the economic stimulus that these rentals provide to local communities.

It’s the latest battle when it comes to short-term vacation rentals, and there’s more to come. Every year for the past decade, state lawmakers have attempted to further limit the ability of local governments to regulate vacation rentals.

So far, efforts have been in vain.

Here is the history:

In 2011, Governor Rick Scott signed legislation prohibiting local governments from enacting any new laws restricting the use of vacation rentals, prohibiting vacation rentals, or regulating vacation rentals, giving that power to the state government.

At the same time, about 75 previously issued local ordinances were “grandfathered”. After cities were pushed back, the legislature reversed in 2014, allowing local governments to manage issues such as noise, parking, and waste, but still preventing them from banning or regulating the length or frequency of short-term vacation rentals.

Last year, a bill sponsored by Republican Sen. Danny Burgess, which represents parts of Hillsborough and Pasco counties, reportedly preempted local government authority to regulate advertising platforms such as Airbnb and Vrbo and licensed them with the Florida Department of Professional Regulation. The measurement failed.

This year, the only proposal filed so far for the next legislative session comes from Miami-Dade Republicans. Ileana Garcia in the Senate (SB 92) and Fabian Basabé in the House (HB 105). Both lawmakers would require vacation rental operators to respond to complaints and other immediate issues by providing the local government with certain contact information. Neither lawmaker returned our request for comment.

Industry officials and lobbyists are watching closely.

“Expedia Group looks forward to continuing our collaboration in efforts to support a vibrant travel and tourism economy in Florida during this legislative session,” said Paul Seago, director of government affairs for Expedia, which runs Vrbo. He provided the statement in an email but did not elaborate.

Ashley Chambersspokesperson for the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, said the organization had “no objection” to the bill filed by Garcia/Basabe, but said state law needed to be updated to adapt to the changing landscape.

From proposals they advocate including a local registration option so that local governments can better understand and respond to what is happening in their jurisdictions, and provisions for revoking vacation rental licenses. This means that if vacation rental operators fail to follow specified rules, the state could revoke state vacation rental licenses for violating local registration requirements.

Industry watchers say historically the communities with the most short-term rental issues in the state are Miami-Dade and Palm Beach counties, and now Indian Rocks Beach, a city of about Population 4,000 located 27 miles west of Tampa. Currently, there are more than 2,168 active rentals in the city, according to AirDNA, which tracks the short-term rental industry. Of those active rentals, 257 are in residential areas, according to Kennedy.

Kelly Cisarickanother longtime resident of Indian Rocks Beach, says her community has become an inviting landscape for young people to hang out with due to the pandemic, when most of society shut down for several months and Florida is suddenly became a paradise for those who wanted to come and party in the Sunshine State.

“We really had this kind of peak rental park rage over the last two years because it was so much more appealing to get a group of people together and rent a vacation rental,” she says. “We were like the revenge trip for friends and families to come together. That’s the kind of stuff we’ve been through, so we just have the fatigue of the revenge trip.

Mayor Kennedy has visited Tallahassee in previous years to discuss short-term rentals with state lawmakers. She says local authorities are much closer to the citizens they govern and that the issue of short-term vacation rentals “is one of those situations where (state) lawmakers shouldn’t have get involved”.

“The big thing that many said to me was, ‘it’s about property rights’, but when you make that comment, what about the person who lived 25 to 40 years next door ( short-term rental property)? What happened to their property rights?” Kennedy said.

Vacation Rental Reviews

In Indian Rocks Beach, the town’s months-long discussion has been fueled by criticism of vacation rentals, which involves vacation rental owners who fear the new regulations will hurt the local economy.

“We are bringing more money to all the local businesses, cleaners, handymen, local restaurants – the list is endless for all the economic benefits that tourism brings,” says Stacey Contean Orlando real estate investor who rents four units in Indian Rocks Beach.

Kenny Hayslet manages over 90 vacation rental properties in Pinellas County as Bench Time Rentals Manager. He’s all for what he calls “sense bylaws,” but says the problem is the city isn’t currently enforcing the laws on the books.

“You can regulate all you want, but if the city can’t enforce its own regulations, how is it going to enforce new regulations?” he asks.

Another Pinellas County beach community, Redington Beach, saw residents vote overwhelmingly last March to ban vacation rentals altogether in its residential neighborhoods, and is now awaiting a court ruling on whether that referendum is valid.

In the meantime, the city passed a series of bylaws that some property owners said they would legally challenge. Mayor David Will called vacation rentals “a cancer” that is eroding local communities.

“Preemption literally prevents you from governing,” Will says. “It prevents your citizens from coming to the town hall and expressing their opinion, yes or no, on a particular subject. This prevents a discussion. This prevents a debate. It undermines our democracy.

The Indian Rocks Beach City Commission’s reform proposals include drafting an occupancy ordinance; hiring a second full-time code enforcement officer and implementing inspection and check-in fees in line with other short-term rental communities. They will also discuss the format of the Redington Beach ordinance.

She says the proposals have been reviewed by their city attorney to pass the legal review and thinks they can serve as a model to show other local communities that they have the tools at their disposal to create additions for residents. short term rentals.

“There is this perception among local government officials that there is nothing they can do, and I think that needs to stop. There are things we can do. And my goal is to get that (information) out there,” Kennedy says.


Mitch Perry report through Florida Phoenix.

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