St. Petersburg, Pinellas County look to rein in short-term rentals (2024)

Officials in both Pinellas County and St. Petersburg have been watching a boom in short-term vacation rentals driven by growing corporate interest, and they’ve come to a similar conclusion: They need to keep a closer watch on the industry.

In separate meetings on Thursday, county commissioners and City Council members talked about ways to improve oversight of the short-term rental market. Both discussions centered on creating requirements for short-term rental operators to register their properties and exploring their options for fining rental operators that break the rules.

Both must navigate state regulations that sharply limit how much power local governments have to regulate short-term rentals.

Though Pinellas has some standards governing occupancy and parking spaces at short-term rentals in the unincorporated parts of the county, its attempts to monitor such rentals are “entirely ineffective,” said Kevin McAndrew, the county’s director of building and development review services.

Data produced by a third-party software company found online listings for nearly 2,700 short-term rentals in unincorporated Pinellas, and about 18,000 in the county as a whole. The county’s current database tracking those rentals, which are counted through a zoning permit process, includes just 300 units.

Meanwhile, the number of short-term rentals has grown by more than 25% countywide in the last year, he said, and code enforcement complaints have spiked. Tourism is high: Pinellas collected nearly $100 million in bed taxes last year, the most in its history. State law prohibits local governments from regulating the frequency or duration of stays in short-term rentals unless those local ordinances were on the books before 2011. And ownership of those rentals is shifting — less mom and pop, more private equity investors.

“It’s no longer the homeowner renting out their house,” McAndrew said. “This is investment groups, small and big, that are supported by very sophisticated technology that provides data on where to invest.”

Pinellas County staff have begun work on recommendations for a new county ordinance that would require short-term rental operators in unincorporated Pinellas to register with the county and renew that registration annually.

An early outline McAndrew showed this week suggested fees of $250 for the initial registration and $125 for the renewal, but commissioners said they believe those rates need to be higher. Most said they’d also like the fine for failure to register — pegged at $500 in the outline — to be higher, though County Attorney Jewel White said their options there may be limited legally.

Those fees and fines would allow Pinellas to spend more money tracking short-term rentals. The plan would likely involve a third-party software that keeps track of rentals and scrapes online data to find possible violations. Commissioners said they’d be interested in funding a new unit within the county’s code enforcement division to focus on short-term rentals. How much that costs would determine how the county moves forward, as would the fate of a bill, under consideration by the governor now, that would further preempt some local regulations. That bill, which would allow local licensing regulations, is sponsored by state Sen. Nick DiCeglie, R-Indian Rocks Beach.

St. Petersburg, Pinellas County look to rein in short-term rentals (1)

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McAndrew said the county hopes to have a registration program in place by the end of the year.

The city of St. Petersburg has had rules on the books since 2007 prohibiting rentals fewer than 30 days or no more than three consecutive times within a 365-day period. The city put a better tracking system in place in 2016. Since then, the city has received 1,012 citizen-launched complaints and issued 775 violation notices.

Related: She’s reported over 100 St. Petersburg short-term rentals. Others want to do the same.

In St. Petersburg, after a property has been put on notice, cases that don’t come into compliance after receiving a violation go before the Code Enforcement Board for a hearing. If the property is still in violation, the board has historically set a fine of $200 per day of noncompliance. The maximum allowed by state law is $250.

St. Petersburg City Council member Lisset Hanewicz said short-term rentals have been a long-standing complaint in her district, which encompasses the neighborhoods of Old Northeast, Crescent Lake, Woodlawn, Magnolia Heights and Meadowlawn. She wants a discussion on establishing a short-term rental registry and issuing “super fines.”

DiCeglie was also at St. Petersburg City Hall to discuss his bill, which also would allow collection of more taxes from rental transactions. The council voted to discuss Hanewicz’s proposal after the governor takes action on DiCeglie’s bill.

City Council vice chairperson Copley Gerdes said the issue of short-term rentals came up at Wednesday’s Tourist Development Council meeting. He said that in February there were 3,200 Airbnb and VRBO listings within St. Petersburg’s city limits.

“That’s a lot,” Gerdes said. “I’ve experienced the same type of phone calls and emails I’m sure as the rest of us. So I’m very much looking forward to this discussion.”

St. Petersburg, Pinellas County look to rein in short-term rentals (2024)
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