Indian Rocks Beach Vacation Rental Debate Heats Up

INDIAN ROCKS BEACH — The line to speak at a Nov. 15 meeting on short-term rentals stretched from the front of City Hall’s auditorium to the back and the door, as hundreds of people showed up to vent on the hot topic.

During the build-up to the meeting, members of a grassroots group opposed to the city’s vacation rental boom repeatedly urged city leaders to fight “cancer in their community” and to reduce problems associated with “transitional housing”, citing noise, litter and parking issues.

But many of those who came out came out in defense of vacation rentals. Many called for an end to name-calling and a cooperative effort to work together and find solutions.

“I own a short-term rental and I don’t want any bad elements there either,” Steve Van Leeuwen said at the start of the 3.5-hour meeting. “But I want to defend ourselves. We make an easy target.

Van Leeuwen said the industry helps the barrier island’s economy.

“People don’t understand what short-term rentals do for the community,” he said.

Van Leeuwen added that 6% of booking fees go to the city “upfront” and noted that most visitors buy and eat locally.

“And I take issue with the name ‘transients,'” he said. “These people are tourists. They spend money here.

That sentiment became a common theme as three dozen speakers took the mic, some offering potential solutions to a problem that everyone agreed would not go away.

“This commission cannot outlaw short-term rentals outright,” City Attorney Randy Mora said in his opening remarks. “That’s not an option for us in 2022.”

Longtime resident Bob Copeland cited a state law regarding vacation rentals that he says could lead to stricter regulations for the industry statewide.

“My memo provides a clear path for the city to get out of this problem by simply applying the rules under the statutes,” said Copeland, who addressed the memo to City Attorney and City Manager Gregg Mims.

Copeland said he found a 2015 Flagler County case that was upheld on appeal and gives county officials the ability to “regulate everything but the frequency and duration” of short-term rental contracts.

He added: “These legislative provisions set a lower bar for enforcement than laws regarding these matters for the general public in a residential area. The state has established a special law to control inappropriate behavior in public accommodations. …When these investors decided to buy a property as a (short-term rental), they chose to convert it from residential to commercial use. And commercial, fire and safety zoning codes are much higher than residential.

Copeland said those codes include mandatory fire suppression and evacuation systems, special inspections of balconies, rail tracks and stairs for structures taller than three stories. He said there may also be higher municipal fees and mandatory fencing, guest registries and maximum occupancy limits.

“I would venture to say that there are several rentals that are non-compliant,” Copeland said.

At this point, Pinellas County Fire and Rescue District Chief Jeffrey Davidson said the department is working to create an ordinance for fire safety regulations that would piggyback on city regulations. .

“We’ve been working for months on an ordinance that we want to enact district-wide,” Davidson said, noting that the legislation would allow the department to inspect commercial accommodations and “make sure they’re up to code” by matters of fire extinguishing, smoke alarms and other regulations.

Davidson said they could also “make recommendations” regarding occupancy and “we can work with the city to identify any issues.”

After a code enforcement officer for the city of Largo spoke about the difficulties in enforcing regulations, Redington Beach Mayor David Will noted that they “have the same problems” in his city and urged residents to continue to contact their state lawmakers in Tallahassee who have been “handcuffing” local lawmakers.

“Local voices should be making local choices,” Will said, adding that a bill is being introduced this legislative session “that will give you back the ability to influence zoning (so) please don’t give up. not that”.

“It’s my 14th year here and it’s something we have to live with,” said IRB Commissioner Phil Hanna, “Florida’s 509 law is where these things get snuck in, so it There is definitely a way, and together we can make this happen.”

Mayor Cookie Kennedy, who noted Sen. Ed Hooper attended and is “on our side” on the matter, said the commission will write a letter recommending the fire department’s order “so they can act immediately.”

Kennedy noted that the city has hired a second code enforcement officer to handle the rentals and is looking to hire a magistrate to handle the cases. She also asked the city manager to start addressing issues such as maximum occupancy, business tax licenses, public information campaigns and increased fees and fines.

The mayor also thanked everyone, including “good vacation rental owners,” for working to improve the community.

“All beach mayors agree on this issue,” she added.

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