The battle over the short-term rental industry in Indian Rocks Beach is starting to take on the feel of an election, with campaign style signs promoting both sides of the issue popping up on lawns all over town.

INDIAN ROCKS BEACH — The first Indian Rocks Beach City Commission meeting of the new year was light on legislative content, as the latest work session addressing short-term rentals is set for Tuesday, Jan. 24, starting at 5 p.m. A large turnout is expected for what’s sure to be a long meeting.

While the Jan. 10 agenda featured only a couple of minor housekeeping items, the hourlong meeting was dominated by short-term rental talk. Several representatives on both sides of the issue used the public comments portion of the meeting to reiterate points that have been made since last fall, when city officials agreed to look into adding new fees, fines and/or regulations in an effort to gain control of IRB’s burgeoning vacation rental industry.

According to Vice Mayor Denise Houseberg, who has been gathering information on the city’s STRs over the past several months, while local officials’ hands are tied regarding certain aspects of the industry, there are things that can be done. “Though Florida state law does not allow local governments to ban short term rentals entirely or regulate the length of stay or their frequency, local governments can and have passed rules to try and control the negative effects of vacation rentals,” Houseberg wrote in a letter containing the results of her research. She noted the state legislature “banned cities from regulating short-term rentals” in 2011. She said IRB currently has 270 rental properties, and 7.5 percent of the city’s residential homes are being used as STRs “right now.” The city’s current ordinance requires the property owner to register as a short-term rental if they rent to guests more than three times per calendar year for a period of less than 30 days, and they also must obtain a Florida Department of Revenue certificate, a Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation license, and a Business Tax Receipt number. 

Houseberg said the city’s compliance team “is working to ensure than anyone” who isn’t in compliance with regulations requiring the business information be posted outside the home receives a daily fine. While officials understand residents want them to “aggressively pressure our Florida representatives to get them to give us our control back,” she noted the Florida League of Cities, “our advocate in promoting local self-government,” has “the biggest influence in the Florida legislature than this community could ever hire” and “they also face significant challenges with changing the laws for short-term rentals.”

Despite all this, IRB officials have already agreed to make changes to the city’s existing STR ordinance, which manages noise, trash, and parking violations as well as annual code enforcement inspections.

In addition to hiring a special magistrate for code enforcement services, other potential changes include adding occupancy limits, registration fees and inspections required by fire code to the ordinance. 

“There’s not a perfect answer to resolve the issue of residential short-term rentals that will please everyone,” Houseberg wrote. “There are compromises that need to happen to make these entities inside the neighborhoods safer, quieter and friendlier.”

IRB Mayor Joanne “Cookie” Kennedy agreed.

“While some people have said there is nothing that we can do about this issue, that’s simply not true,” Kennedy said by phone a week before the work session. “We are going to listen to what everyone has to say, the staff is going to make recommendations to the commission, and from there it will probably take a couple of meetings to finalize everything.”

Kennedy said once the new STR legislation is enacted “we’re going to be done with this issue for a while” while acknowledging they would likely “make changes and tweaks here and there” to iron out any kinks.

The mayor also called for what’s sure to be an overflow crowd to use cooperation and decorum next week, noting there will be extra security on hand. “I plan to start the meeting by saying we’re all adults here and we’re going to treat each other with respect,” she said.