DUNEDIN — City officials are looking to place additional licensing requirements on vacation rentals while making property owners provide local oversight.
At an April 16 work session, staff presented a list of proposed changes to the city ordinance regulating vacation rentals.
The move was a follow-up to a Feb. 19 workshop in which commissioners directed staff to propose additional regulations.
According to city records, the city currently has 293 vacation rentals. The city currently allows vacation or short-term rentals in some zoning districts that are different from areas in which bed and breakfasts are permitted, Lael Giebel, assistant to city manager Jennifer Bramley told commissioners.
As the vacation rental industry continues to expand, the commission desired citizen feedback on whether to keep the existing regulations in place, add regulations, and or expand the allowed zone districts, Planning and Development Director Greg Rice said.
Using a similar ordinance enacted in Madeira Beach as a baseline, Dunedin’s ordinance would require the owner of a vacation rental, who may live out of state, to list a responsible party overseeing the property who can be reached 24 hours, 7 days a week, and can be expected to respond in two hours.
“This is important because, as you know, at lot of these units are owned from out of state,” Rice noted.
If adopted, the revised ordinance would require a vacation rental owner to show proof of registration with the county, so Pinellas gets its tourist development tax dollars. The owner also has to provide proof of license with state Department of Business and Professional Regulation, which has a vacation rental category.
In addition, a vacation rental owner will be required to provide liability insurance and have their property pass a one-time fire inspection, like the city does with all commercial businesses; a vacation rental owner will also have to pay a $250 registration fee online.
Mayor Julie Ward Bujalski said she has heard comments that ordinance may drive some rental unit owners underground.
“We want to be fair and not discourage people,” she said.
Rice said he does not think the new regulations will cause vacation rental businesses to provide properties without adherence to regulations.
“I don’t believe it will drive people underground,” he told commissioners.
“I don’t believe that at all,” the mayor added.
“Once we get rid of the ones that are illegal by zoning, we should be down to a much more reasonable number of vacation rentals,” Rice told commissioners.
In 2011, the Florida Legislature preempted cities and counties from prohibiting or regulating vacation rentals, unless such prohibition or regulations were adopted prior to June 1, 2011. Dunedin’s ordinance pertaining to vacation rentals was adopted Dec. 16, 2010. In 2014 the state loosened the broad preemption on regulation of vacation rentals, but left in place language that prevents cities or counties from prohibiting vacation rentals or regulating their frequency or duration.
This year, an attempt to take regulation of vacation rentals out of local control and give it to the state stalled in the state Senate and appears to have failed, but it may be brought back in the next session.
Among other items addressed in the city’s ordinance, a vacation rental must have one parking space per bedroom, and the owners are prohibited from renting to a convicted sexual predator, offender, or felon. No solid waste container can be placed at curbside before 6 p.m. prior to collection day.
Commissioner Maureen Freaney said she “does not want to get too microscopic on stuff,” such as in enacting rules on how many can occupy a bedroom when the city is not having any problems in that area.
“It just feels we are micromanaging something we don’t have to micromanage,” she said. “I know beach communities have a unique situation, where they have to be way-micro on some of this, because of party things. I don’t think that’s our issue. Just making sure we are balancing this correctly.”
Commissioner Heather Gracy said she tends to agree.
“I would like to see some more flexibility in the law. … Are we micromanaging this? I think we have a heavier hand than we need to have right now on private property. It’s a thorny issue, and I want as much protection for the property owners as I do for the tourists.”
Bujalski agreed that restricting how many people are allowed in a bedroom could be considered overreach.
“There could be a bedroom with a bunk bed and blow-up mattress. If you have the other pieces in place maybe the occupancy doesn’t have to be there, because there can be different situations.”
Freaney agreed, “I’m not sure we should get into occupancy.”
City Attorney Tom Trask advised he has concerns about fair housing regulations when it comes to regulating occupancy.
City Manager Jennifer Bramley said staff has its direction as it relates to occupancy.
Freaney also raised a concern about asking owners of rental apartments to pay a $250 license fee.
“I want to make sure our fee is reasonable and this seems high. I just haven’t seen any that high. I have seen it at $100. It’s not about the money.”
Trask noted the city will set the fee schedule in a separate ordinance.
Bramley told commissioners staff will conduct a survey of other cities rental fees and make a recommendation to the commission.
The city will hold several more public hearings before voting to adopt the new measure. The revised ordinance will come back to the City Commission at a future date.
City officials also considered tweaking a separate ordinance regulating the operation of a bed and breakfast. One important addition is consideration of a regulation requiring a bed and breakfast to actually serve breakfast and be licensed under the state Division of Hotels and Restaurants.
In other actions
City commissioners unanimously approved paying an increased fee to rent The Church of the Good Shepherd parking lot, adjacent to the City Marina for boat trailer parking. The fee increase would allow boat trailers to be parked on the lot anytime during the week
Since April 2015, the city has paid the church $350 a month or $4,200 annually for the use of its property. The church sought an amendment to the lease to increase the city's fee to $500 a month or $6,000 annually.
This increase in fee would allow 25 boat trailers to be parked in lot seven days a week, instead of only on Saturdays, Sundays and legal holidays.
Fees will be paid from the Marina Enterprise Fund. The term of the agreement was extended for an additional three-year period with the city having an option to renew the lease for three additional one-year terms.