REDINGTON SHORES — Controversy erupted at the Jan. 19 commission meeting over “several minor changes” proposed by the town attorney to a recently enacted law governing short-term vacation rentals, which are allowed in the Commercial Tourist Facility (CTF) zoning district.

The changes would eliminate a fee charged to homeowners wanting to register their house to be used for short-term rentals. Also, the most controversial change would remove a provision that allowed the town to inspect such houses at any time without advanced warning. Some neighbors, seeing overcrowded rental houses, feel it is important to do inspections on a timely basis, and like the law as-is.

The law as revised would require the town to get a court order for an inspection.

Town Attorney James Denhardt said the changes are needed to protect the town from court challenges to the law. The owner of one house some claim is a “party house” is already suing the town over certain provisions of the vacation rental code.

The commission voted 4-1 to pass the revised vacation rental ordinance on first reading. Commissioners Jennie Blackburn, Bill Krajewski, Jeff Neal and Michael Robinson were in favor. Mayor MaryBeth Henderson was opposed.

The law will now go to the town’s Planning and Zoning Commission, and then come back for a second and final vote of the commission at next month’s meeting.

Robinson said, with the changes, the town still has the ability to inspect a property, “it just requires a little more due process.”

“We have to get a court order to do an inspection, instead of being able to walk in at any time,” Robinson said. He advised residents, if they see a violation, to call the police and report it.

Krajewski said he was sympathetic to residents who opposed the change, but “I don’t see anything that precludes us from having or completing an inspection when we go through due process.”

“I’m strongly in favor of this,” he added.

Blackburn said she is not opposed to the change requiring a court order to do an inspection, but she can see where residents would object “that we have more steps to go through,” giving violators time to correct a problem, if only temporarily.

Neal said he was glad the town was revising the ordinance. He was concerned that the original ordinance violated the constitutional rights of homeowners by allowing inspections of their house at any time and without warning. Now, with the requiring of a court order for an inspection, no one’s rights are violated, Neal said.

Mayor Henderson, the only “no” vote, did not comment on the subject.

But several residents who spoke at the meeting were strongly opposed to the changes, especially the requiring of a court order to do inspections of suspected violators.

Leslee Coppock, who lives on Lee Avenue, said she is surrounded by short-term rental properties “where there are large groups of people staying.” She said the town needs to be doing inspections continually, or there will be violations. “These people can do things like add bedrooms in hallways” to accommodate more people, Coppock said.

“I don’t know if people realize how difficult it is to live in the CTF district where these things happen,” Coppock said. She told of an incident where people staying at one of the rental properties were “using the restroom outside, in full view,” because the restrooms inside were apparently full at the time.

Coppock also said people are advertising their properties on the internet and overstating the number of occupants allowed.

Sal Celeste said he also lives in the CTF district and sees the problems first-hand.

“I am very much opposed to the changes,” Celeste said.

He also told of “people urinating outside” because there weren’t enough bathrooms to accommodate the guests, and of the house on one side of him that had “18 adults and 5 children staying there.”

One group of guests for a wedding “used our yard for a 30-person photo shoot,” which was captured on his security cameras when he was not at home, Celeste said. “These are supposed to be single-family homes, not hotels for transient rentals which have been modified to accommodate a huge number of guests.”

Celeste said he spoke for most of the residents in the CTF district when he said this abuse has got to stop. He said calling the police “is not an acceptable solution.”