'Leave us the heck alone': Beach towns seek meeting with state lawmakers on short-term rentals - Florida Politics

‘Leave us the heck alone’: Beach towns seek meeting with state lawmakers on short-term rentals

The mayors of Pinellas County’s beach communities want to find a way to reclaim their power to restrict short-term rentals in their towns. The first step will be to organize a roundtable discussion involving state legislators and others involved in the short-term rental business.

The mayors who make up the Big-C, the Barrier Islands Government Council, have been railing against the state law that prevents them from having any say in how long or how often a person can rent his or her property in a residential area.

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The mayors related story after story of neighbors upset with loud parties, parking problems and strangers wandering around all hours of the night. They want to be able to stop it but Florida law won’t let them.

Also at issue is Senate Bill 1400, sponsored in part by Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg. That bill may come before the next sitting of the Legislature.

Brandes, according to the mayors at the Big-C meeting on May 30, has not shown any inclination to back away from the state having control over the municipalities regarding the rentals.

Bill Queen, the mayor of North Redington Beach, said he met with Brandes recently and the senator stuck with the stance he has mentioned in the past.

“He said property rights must be protected and they are residential in nature,” said Queen. “That means in residential neighborhoods.”

Queen also quoted Brandes as saying the grandfather clause can’t go on forever.

The grandfather clause relates to 2011 when the first piece of legislation was passed limiting municipalities’ rights to restrict short-term rentals. From that point on towns could not pass local ordinances which limited the frequency or number of times residents could rent their property. Local laws already on the books would be “grandfathered” in.

In a letter he wrote outlining his stand against short-term rentals, Queen spoke of the negative issues that arise when the rentals cannot be restricted.

“Noise, traffic, parking, garbage and safety,” he wrote. “All of these issues would be handled by local law enforcement. However, unlike a permanent resident that can be communicated with on a continuing basis the weekly or nightly turnover of people would cause repeated violations of the same offenses.”

“Opening up the residential neighborhoods to these issues is counterproductive to the peace, serenity and safety that we currently enjoy in our homes; all things that are not for sale for any amount of tax revenue as touted by the proponents of these bills,” he wrote.

Queen concluded his letter by suggesting the solutions to the problem would be the elimination of the 2011 legislation and the election of state representatives most sympathetic to their cause.

Indian Rocks Beach Mayor Cookie Kennedy added to the discussion by saying there is no middle ground on the issue.

“You can’t be in the middle,” she said. “Short-term rentals pit neighbor against neighbor. We want respect and it doesn’t happen with this. People are having parties all the time.”

Kennedy suggested having a roundtable discussion, which would bring together all the players in the issue.

Clearwater Mayor George Cretekos threw a note of caution into the discussion.

“We have to take the emotion out of it,” he said. “We need to talk to our legislators and get them to understand what we’re talking about.”

Queen replied that after meeting with the legislators several times nothing has changed.

“We don’t seem to be getting anywhere,” he said.

“We have to stop throwing stones at them and take the emotion out,” replied Cretekos. “We’re saying the same thing just from a different perspective.”

Kennedy reiterated her desire to have a roundtable discussion and said the beach towns have to enlist allies in their fight.

“The county has a piece in this too and they have said they will revisit their laws,” she said. “We need to branch out and get other towns involved; there is strength in numbers.”

St. Pete Beach Mayor Alan Johnson summed up his feelings in one sentence.

“Leave us the heck alone.”

Johnson told a story of a single woman who was afraid to leave her house at night because of rowdy parties going on next door.

“We have varying degrees of the problem going on all over,” he said.

Brandes was not at the meeting but his representative was.

Melissa Meshil, his legislative assistant, told the group that Brandes wants to get involved with the mayors.

“He wants to advance the discussion,” she said. “There is no pathway to repealing the 2011 law but he wants to hear solutions.”

Further discussion on the issue from the audience included the difficulty of enforcing any regulations that may be on the books.

“Often renters are instructed to say they are friends of the owners,” said Cretekos.

State Rep. Kathleen Peters, R-Treasure Island, commented that the issue won’t stop here.

“They want to take away the nuisance laws, and they might encroach on condo bylaws,” Peters said.

In the end, the mayors voted unanimously to hold a roundtable discussion in Indian Shores with the date to be determined.

Drew Wilson covers legislative campaigns and fundraising for Florida Politics. He is a former editor at The Independent Florida Alligator and business correspondent at The Hollywood Reporter. Wilson, a University of Florida alumnus, covered the state economy and Legislature for LobbyTools and The Florida Current prior to joining Florida Politics.
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