'Leave us the heck alone': Beach towns irked over short-term rentals

A search for any Pinellas County beach town on Airbnb, which operates an online marketplace for people to lease or rent short-term lodging, provides hundreds of results.

INDIAN ROCKS BEACH – City commissioners unanimously passed an ordinance Sept. 11 governing short-term rentals in the city.

The move came after weeks of meetings dealing with the matter, all underlined by the fact that the city could not pass any ordinance dictating the length or frequency of a rental. The state Legislature took that power away from municipalities some time ago.

The ordinance passed by the city forces landlords to obtain a business license and to post the number of that license along with their phone number on a sign attached to the front of the home. Rentals with the owner on site do not require the sign.

Going into the meeting that part of the ordinance required the name of the landlord be posted, but several residents who attended the meeting were concerned about that.

Joe Farrell, representing Pinellas Realtors, said his group was concerned about the sign.

“It is a matter of safety and harassment,” he said.

Laura Lindsay agreed.

“I am concerned about safety,” she said. “It is redundant; if we have to have a license then you know who we are.”

Another landlord added her voice to the argument.

“I’m a condo owner and a representative of all the people in my building,” she said. “Having a sign on the front door would be asking for trouble. I’ve already had issues with the homeless; it puts me in danger.”

City Attorney Randy Mora explained that the sign was important for the police, who may be called to the residence to quell a disturbance, to know who to contact.

Another complaint from residents at the meeting dealt with the number of people who could be in a rental property at the same time. One man said he saw 22 people come out of a duplex.

Mora said the commissioners discussed that issue at length and decided enforcing such a regulation would be impossible.

“What do you do when the renter says he has all these people over to watch the game?”

He said several Florida communities are facing lawsuits over the issue.

At previous meetings, where the issue of short-term rentals was discussed, residents who showed up were mostly homeowners who objected to having short-term rentals as their neighbors. This time most of those in attendance were renters, people who owned rental property or who rented their property through Airbnb.

Still some of the old issues resurfaced. Resident Hugh Burton called it a matter of responsibility.

“How do we get people to be responsible?” He asked. “There are still issues of noise, trash and maintenance. You might want to consider that property owners be fined after a certain number of complaints.”

Later in the meeting Mora said that idea was not practical.

“Just because someone has been investigated by the police doesn’t mean they have committed an infraction, so the number of calls is irrelevant in this case.”

Mora cautioned the audience and the commissioners that things could change in the future.

“We are trying to adapt here,” he said. “We have to be aware that the Florida Legislature could pass legislation that could make everything we did here null.”

Mayor Cookie Kennedy wrapped up discussion on the matter by saying it was a difficult issue to deal with.

“This commission has been good stewards of this issue,” she said. “We are interested in being fair for both neighbors and owners. This is not a one size fits all issue; problems are different throughout the issue.”

Kennedy noted that Indian Rocks Beach had just passed some ground-breaking legislation.

“I’ve been invited to speak in Largo where they do not have an ordinance governing short-term rentals. Our city is being looked at as a prototype.”

Staff evaluations

Commissioner Ed Hoofnagle proposed a new system for evaluation the charter officers of the city. The charter officers are the city manager, the city clerk and the city attorney. Those three positions are filled by the commissioners; all other employees of the city are hired by the city manager.

“I would like to avoid the difficult situation we had at our last meeting,” he said.

Hoofnagle was referring to the open discussion about whether to give City Clerk Deanne Bulino O’Reilly a raise with her in the room.

He suggested that sometime prior to the next budget a commissioner, along with the city manager or clerk, gather all the information they may need to properly evaluate the three so that a meeting such as the one earlier in the month could be avoided.

The mayor and other commissioners agreed and appointed Hoofnagle as the one to gather the information for next year.

Kennedy nominated for board position

Mayor Cookie Kennedy has been nominated as the city’s representative on the board of Forward Pinellas, the county’s planning organization. Kennedy is the current representative on the board representing all beach communities. If elected her term would expire in 2021.