Vacationers skip hotels and book rooms in private homes instead

Law targets short-term vacation rentals

TAMPA, Fla. - Thousands of vacationers who come to Florida each year are skipping hotels and staying in private homes instead.

Danielle Ferrari had a bad experience with a roommate who shared her modest yet charming Seminole Heights home. After he left, a friend had a suggestion. Websites like Airbnb.com make it easy for anyone to earn money from a spare bedroom.

"If you don't like the guests, they're gone in two days," Ferrari said. "But I've loved almost every single guest I've had."

One of those guests was Karen Rowe, a first-time visitor from Calgary who wanted a more authentic Tampa experience than a conventional hotel could offer.

"I really got a sense of what it was like to live in the area when you're staying in someone's home," said Rowe, who has since moved to Tampa. "And it's a third of the price."

Rowe's experience is part of an explosive trend in short term vacation rentals led by San Francisco based Airbnb.com.  Tampa alone has 431 rooms listed on the site, which will book more rooms around the world this year than any of the giant hotel chains.

But Florida may be putting on the brakes. State Rep. Darryl Rouson of St. Petersburg has so far supported a bill that would give local communities the ability to regulate short term vacation rentals and possibly put them out of business by outlawing stays shorter than a month.

"We don't want a neighbor who's been there for 30 years in a community waking up and finding eight cars in the driveway next door and eight people living in a three bedroom residence and they're only there for a five day party," said Rouson, who also recognizes the economic contribution these private room rentals generate.

Lysa and Michael Bozel have a half dozen furnished homes they rent to vacationers in residential neighborhoods. The Bozels said their guests pump money into the local community and there have been no problems with the neighbors. If House Bill 307 becomes law, they believe the local economy will suffer.

"We're taxpayers," Bozel said. "We're entitled to do whatever we please with our properties. We think we're helping the neighborhood be a better neighborhood."

Lined up in favor of these new restrictions are some civic and real estate groups as well as the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association.

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