Pinellas mayors work together to fight short-term rentals

PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — Neighbors across Tampa Bay are fed up with vacationers causing chaos on their quiet streets, and now a group of Pinellas County leaders are stepping up to put an end to what they call "absolute absurdity."

Mary Wahlbeck lives right next door to short-term rental on 125th Avenue in Largo. She can describe what it’s like living next to a home rented night after night in two words: "It's awful," she muttered.

“They walk around, they lean over my fence. They’ve taken my dog out of the yard to pet him. They light bonfires that burn all day and all night," she added.

North Redington Beach Mayor Bill Queen has heard it all.

“The traffic, the noise, the parking, the garbage, the safety. We get complaints all the time about short-term rentals,” he explained.

Yet, a recently passed state law, means Queen and his fellow local leaders have no power to stop it. A 2011 state law was amended in 2014, preventing cities from banning short-term rentals and even being able to regulate how long and how often a homeowner can rent out their property. Only ordinances on the books before June 2011 are grandfathered in. 

“Which is absolutely absurd," Queen added.

Now, Queen and seven other beach community leaders have joined forces and plan to recruit mayors across Florida to demand state leaders give the power back to cities to regulate short-term rentals. The leaders will attend a Florida League of Cities meeting next month where they will work together to push for change. 

It comes at a crucial time. New numbers show short-term rentals are exploding in Tampa Bay. In Pinellas County, 8,147 homes were rented in June, a 57 percent increase from last year. In Hillsborough County, 2,502 homes were rented last month, a 64 percent year-over-year increase.

Queen believes the numbers will continue to increase.

“If you’re ready for a motel next to your house standby because it could absolutely happen,” he said confidently.

Tallahassee lawmakers say repealing local laws has helped homeowners to rake in millions of dollars. Wahlbeck's neighbor tells ABC Action News after a death in the family, renting is the only way the family is able to continue to pay the mortgage on their home. 

Wahlbeck says she's paying the price every day.  

"This is my home. It's not a house. It's my home," she said fighting back emotions.

Queen and his fellow local leaders say they'll continue to fight, adding that leaders in Tallahassee can't possibly know what is best for every community in Florida.

"We are the ones hearing the complaints. We are the ones talking to residents on a daily basis. The lawmakers seem to be listening to the businesses and the lobbyists more than the people, but we're mad as hell and we're not going to take it anymore," Queen added.

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