MADEIRA BEACH – More than 100 residents showed up at the Nov. 19 Madeira Beach City Commission meeting with a common goal. They want the city to put an end to what they claim is a rampant disregard for the residential rental property law.
City ordinances require a minimum six-month rental for single-family homes and three months for multi-family residences. Resident spokesman Drake Philbrook told the commission that an estimated 50 houses, cottages, apartments and condos in Madeira Beach were available on the Internet for rent by the day, week or month.
Commissioner Elaine Poe, in a later comment, put the estimate at closer to 400 homes and a total of more than 1,000 residential properties available for short-term rental.
“We are very concerned about this,” said Philbrook, showing a printout of a Google search that showed 12 websites on the first page offering vacation rentals in Madeira Beach. The listings were advertising done by property management companies.
The large number of properties available is driven by the huge profits to be made from short-term rentals, Philbrook said. Houses are being rented for $400 a day, with an income potential of over $100,000 a year per home, he said.
Philbrook added that enforcement of the rental laws is difficult because renters are coached to say they are friends or relatives of the property owner if questioned. Nonetheless, some communities have had success in dealing with the problem.
One way is to require occupational licenses for Realtors and property owners, with a loss of license penalty for those who violate zoning ordinances, Philbrook said. Key West imposes a $500 a day fine for unlicensed short-term rentals, he said.
Resident Larry Roloff said violations of short-term rental laws are difficult to enforce because an affidavit is required from a suspected short term rental stating they paid rent.
“The cases are very hard to prosecute because a lot of evidence is required,” he said.
Many of the residents who attended the meeting to protest the short-term renters were urged to come by Poe, who has added the issue to several causes she is pushing to “clean up the city.”
Poe said she believes enforcement is key to solving the problem. City Manager Shane Crawford admitted the issue was new to him, but he believes having a uniformed code enforcement officer in the city will be a big help. Crawford urged residents to report illegal short term renters to the sheriff’s office.
“We are going to address the issue,” Crawford said. “The law enforcement officers will be getting their wheels (going) on it.”
The topic also will be discussed at the City Commission January workshop session, Crawford said.
Poe vowed to make illegal short term rentals a priority until the issue is solved.
“I will stay on it,” she said. “I won’t let the ball fall.”
New Snack Shack management
The commission awarded a bid to United Park Services to manage the Snack Shack concession and beach and cabana chair rentals at Archibald Park.
Company official Alan Kahana said he plans to have the Snack Shack and beach concession “up and running” by February. Kahana said he grew up in the Tampa Bay area and has managed similar operations for the past 10 years. He currently runs the concession operations at Fort De Soto Park and Anna Maria Park in Manatee County.
Kahana told the commission he is well qualified and knows how to work in a family-friendly environment. His plans for the Snack Shack include breakfast, lunch and dinner operations, and acoustic entertainment in the evening.
Crawford said the bid amount for the concession operation and beach chair/cabana rental, which represents income the city will be receiving, “is quite a bit higher than we were getting before.”
“We are getting a higher rental,” he said, proving the $1 million investment the city is making in park improvements is paying off. “We are doing a good job of return on investment with this, and already reaping some benefits,” Crawford said.
Negative trend at JPV?
As John’s Pass Village has evolved over the years from a neighborhood shopping center to a major tourist attraction, its character has changed also, said resident Robert Shaw.
Beverage licenses have proliferated, he said, and the Village has changed from a daytime and evening shopping area to an entertainment focus.
Shaw said, “We were complaining 10 years ago about T-shirt shops everywhere. Now, there are more places to buy a beer than a T-shirt, and that’s not good either.”
What’s needed, Shaw said, is a master development plan for John’s Pass Village.
“Right now there is no unified goal,” he said. “The property owners and businesses are all going in their own directions.”
The plan Shaw envisions would control the architecture, signage, exterior colors and use of public property at the pass.
“The problems could be solved by planning,” Shaw said.
Vice Mayor Terry Lister, who ran the meeting in the absence of Mayor Travis Palladeno, said he agreed with Shaw’s remarks.
“We have to clean up John’s Pass Village, and we need some creativity as to how to do it,” said Lister, who runs a business in the Village.
Commissioner Pat Shontz, who has a longtime involvement in JPV, said she is “disgusted with what I see going on there.” Shontz said ownership of the Village businesses has shifted from locals to out of town owners.
“I’d like to keep it a nice community that people want to visit, but short of everybody carrying a .38 (pistol), I don’t know what we’re going to do about this situation,” she said.
Crawford said the problems at John’s Pass Village need to be addressed.
“We have work ahead of us,” he said.
Mayor Travis Palladeno, along with District 1 Commissioner Terry Lister and District 2 Commissioner Nancy Hodges, are up for election in March.
Palladeno was elected in 2011, and will be completing his first term as mayor. Hodges also will be finishing her first term, while Lister is ending his third two-year term.
While commissioners in Madeira Beach represent specific districts, voters throughout the city elect them. The qualifying period for candidates seeking to run in the March 11 election begins Dec. 11 and ends Jan. 10.