Jennifer Webb promised that, if elected, she would file a bill to overturn a state law that prohibits cities from restricting short-term rentals.
Webb did not stop on that one issue.
If elected, Webb said, she would work to restore home rule, the power of a municipality to regulate issues within their borders. Many municipalities have complained in recent years that laws passed by the Florida Legislature have eroded the concept of home rule by restricting cities’ legislative powers.
“It is absolutely an issue,” Webb said Wednesday of both short-term rentals and home rule. Webb added she would work to restore home rule “so we have control over our most basic rights.”
Among those rights, she said, are zoning decisions.
Webb was speaking to a roomful of residents at a Redington Beach council meeting. The Redington Beach council, like others on the beaches, is struggling with the impact of short-term rentals — like those offered on such sites as Airbnb — on homeowners.
Short-term rentals became an issue in Redington Beach after a Canadian couple purchased a house to rent out short-term. Neighbors complained to the town because of noise that disturbed the neighborhood.
Mayor Nick Simons said the town cited the Canadians under a 2008 ordinance that prohibited short-term rentals. The case went to a special magistrate but stopped there because the couple’s attorney discovered the 2008 ordinance had been passed without first going to a referendum.
Simons said the attorney argued a clause in the Town Charter required such ordinances to be approved by voters before taking effect. The attorney argued that the law was unenforceable.
Simons said the ordinance did not go to referendum because the town’s attorney said it was unnecessary. Since then, Redington Beach has hired a different attorney, Jay Daigneault of Dunedin.
Daigneault agreed the Canadian couple’s attorney was right. He told council members not to pursue the code violation because of the costs of possible appeals that Redington Beach would likely lose.
The town can’t simply pass another ordinance because of a 2011 state law banning municipalities from restricting short-term rentals. If the municipality had an ordinance on the books, that would have been allowed to stand. Redington Beach officials thought they were protected because of the 2008 ordinance. It wasn’t until they got to magistrate’s court that they found out they had a problem.
While the dispute was going on, the couple bought a second house — one that could sleep up to 30 people. They began renting out that house to short-term vacationers and other renters.
“Our life becomes hell,” said Steve Fields, who owns the house next door. “We have one party group come in one after the other. There have been as many as 33 people staying there at one time.
“They pile garbage up on the sidewalk in the Florida sun which stinks bad and we now have rats for the first time. They stay up and party and sing karaoke all night. We get no relief as it is always full.”
The Town Council voted Wednesday to hire two sets of attorneys to go over the Town Charter and the ordinances to see if they agree with Daigneault’s interpretation. If they do, the town is hoping they might be able to offer a solution or strategy.
If they can’t do that, Simons said, “we’ve got a problem.”
It’s a problem, all in Redington Beach agree, that can likely only be solved in Tallahassee. But approaches to elected officials haven’t met with much sympathy. At least not until Webb came along.
But Webb is not a sure bet. She’s a Democrat running for the House District 69 seat held by Republican Kathleen Peters. HD 69 covers Gulfport, the south beaches, Kenneth City, and portions of Pinellas Park and unincorporated Lealman.