Some on Pinellas beaches want end to “nightmare” of vacation rentals

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Here in Florida, we’re used to tourists — especially on the beaches; but residents in some formerly quiet residential areas of Pinellas beach communities are upset about short-term rentals they say shouldn’t be allowed in their neighborhoods. Those are homes that, instead of being rented for a year or even a few months are leased for only a week or two or even less, perfect for those families who like to buy the Best Cooler to take to a beach vacation for a week. Claudia McCorkle lives on Gulf Boulevard between two short-term vacation rentals in Redington Beach.

“And it’s just a veritable nightmare to live between this, because, they have no regard for the local residents. I mean, such that you can’t even carry your paddleboard and go to the sea or take a swim in the sea. They don’t stop their play-action for us. They just would like to trample right over us. And it’s awful. And the garbage, and the debris and I said their ‘lewd behavior blankets.’ Well, guess who has to pick them all up? They don’t pick up after their own garbage, I’m the one and I’m a resident. They should be responsible. They do not stay confined in their own boundaries of the lot lines, they traverse the properties over us, the single-family, owner-occupied homeowners. We feel so violated.”

So much so that McCorkle took her complaints to a recent meeting of the Pinellas Legislative Delegation in Tarpon Springs. The mayors of several Pinellas beach communities were there. The mayor of McCorkle’s town, Nick Simons of Redington Beach, told state legislators that there are only a handful of businesses in the mostly residential town and he wants the state’s help to reign in vacation rentals.

“Well, they’re being rented short-term, week or so. And our ordinance prohibits less than 180 days of rental.”

But Simons concedes that the ordinance Redington Beach passed in 2008 has a legal loophole that needs to be fixed. The problem is the town can’t do that under a law passed in 2011 by the Florida Legislature and amended in 2014. If local municipalities had restrictions on short-term rentals on the books before 2011 those were grandfathered in, unless those ordinances get changed. So, Redington Beach’s vacation rental ordinance would become invalid if it gets fixed. Mayor Simons and some residents want the legislature to revisit the law and allow local governments to amend their rules.

“The ordinance that we have in place now is potentially flawed. We haven’t taken it all the way through the court system. But what we’d like to do is to fix the ordinance. And we can do that if the legislature will give us some relief.”

According to an advisory opinion posted on the Florida Attorney General’s website, current state law “allows a local government to regulate vacation rentals, but continues to preclude any local law, ordinance or regulation which would prohibit vacation rentals or restrict the duration or frequency of vacation rentals.” So, Redington Beach and some other communities are hoping the Florida Legislature will pass what’s called a “glitch bill” to change the law and allow municipalities to make one-time fixes to their grandfathered short-term rental ordinances. That’s why the resident we heard from earlier, Claudia McCorkle, is turning to the legislature for help.

“And yes, Redington Beach screwed up in 2008, but, our lawyer has suggested just a modification of the statute in 2011 and by doing so, just to allow our local government to resume control of the zoning ordinances, the zoning regulations. If the state legislature would do that, then they would have the power to regulate and eradicate short-term vacation rentals and restore R1 (residential) zoning.”

McCorkle says she’s encouraged that the chair of the county’s legislative delegation asked two House members to look into the issue. One is newly elected Democrat Ben Diamond and the other, recently reelected Republican Kathleen Peters.

“I’ve met with The League of Cities and I’ve talked with The Association of Counties. Unfortunately, for Redington Beach, unlike other cities– a lot of the cities had this taken care of, they knew that the legislation was coming down and they put in the policies that they needed. However, Redington had a glitch and they didn’t know they had a glitch, at the time.

“So, I would like to see if there’s a way we could do a glitch bill that would assist them to fix this.

“Again, I’m not an attorney, so I have to get the advice and legal counsel to see what are the possibilities of what we could do to assist them.”

Peters and the rest of the Pinellas Legislative Delegation will meet again on January 31 in the Largo library. She and Representative Diamond are expected to bring a proposed glitch bill to amend the state’s short-term rental law.

Opponents of changing the state law cite the rights of property owners to earn an income by renting their homes.

Here are videos of some of the comments about short-term vacation rentals: