Short-term rentals have become a controversial issue in many localities, as online services like Airbnb.com make it easy for anyone to let out a room, an apartment, or a house to out-of-town guests for a night or a week. For permanent residents, it can be unsettling to see casual visitors streaming in and out of a building or a neighborhood. But for local authorities, it's not always clear what, if anything, can be done about the problem — or even whether it is, in fact, a problem at all.
In South Florida, the issue is coming to the fore in beach towns near Tampa, according to a report in the Tampa Bay Times (see: "Pinellas beach towns struggle with illegal home rentals," by Mike Brassfield). "All the signs are there," the Times reports: "Raucous parties. Strangers who stay up late. Cars parked everywhere. An ever-changing rotation of RVs with out-of-state license plates. Beer cans. Wedding tents. Different faces every week. Residents of Pinellas County's beach neighborhoods say they're noticing more and more homes being illegally rented to tourists for a week at a time, or even on a nightly basis."
"Places like Clearwater, St. Pete Beach and Madeira Beach all have laws forbidding short-term rental homes," the paper reports. "But in practice, these laws tend to be loosely enforced. Cities just don't have enough staffers to keep checking on the rising number of beach houses and condos being rented out on the sly. In response, a growing network of fed-up Clearwater Beach residents are taking matters into their own hands, banding together to monitor their own neighborhoods and feed tips to the authorities."
Homeowners can be fined for renting out their houses in violation of local ordinances — and that's happening more frequently, the Times reports. But enforcement typically depends on a neighbor complaining — and it's not clear how neighbors, in general, feel about the practice of casual rentals by owners looking to make a few extra dollars from an otherwise idle property. Some readers commenting on the Times piece defended the homeowners against the complaining neighbors.
Wrote one reader: "Homeowners have a right to rent their property and should not be constrained by government. There are many responsible homeowners who rent out their vacation rental to quiet family tourists as well. Just because some irresponsible homeowners choose to rent to irresponsible tenants doesn't justify banning short term rentals all together. There are also many long term tenants who violate noise and other city of Clearwater ordinances. Should we complain and propose ban long term rentals too?"
Commented another reader: "I don't know what's worse, a neighborhood full of partiers or a neighborhood full of busybodies."