Article published on Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2013

MADEIRA BEACH – More than 100 residents showed up at the Nov. 19 Madeira Beach City Commission
m meeting with a common goal. They want the city to put an end to what they claim is a rampant disregard for the r residential rental property law.

City ordinances require a minimum six-month rental for single-family homes and three months for multi-family residences. Resident spokesman Drake Philbrook told the commission that an estimated 50 houses, cottages, apartments and condos in Madeira Beach were available on the Internet for rent by the day, week or month.

Commissioner Elaine Poe, in a later comment, put the estimate at closer to 400 homes and a total of more than 1,000 residential properties available for short-term rental.

“We are very concerned about this,” said Philbrook, showing a printout of a Google search that showed 12 websites on the first page offering vacation rentals in Madeira Beach. The listings were advertising done by property management companies.

The large number of properties available is driven by the huge profits to be made from short-term rentals, Philbrook said. Houses are being rented for $400 a day, with an income potential of over $100,000 a year per home, he said.

Philbrook added that enforcement of the rental laws is difficult because renters are coached to say they are friends or relatives of the property owner if questioned. Nonetheless, some communities have had success in dealing with the problem.

One way is to require occupational licenses for Realtors and property owners, with a loss of license penalty for those who violate zoning ordinances, Philbrook said. Key West imposes a $500 a day fine for unlicensed short-term rentals, he said.

Resident Larry Roloff said violations of short-term rental laws are difficult to enforce because an affidavit is required from a suspected short term rental stating they paid rent.

“The cases are very hard to prosecute because a lot of evidence is required,” he said.

Many of the residents who attended the meeting to protest the short-term renters were urged to come by Poe, who has added the issue to several causes she is pushing to “clean up the city.”

Poe said she believes enforcement is key to solving the problem. City Manager Shane Crawford admitted the issue was new to him, but he believes having a uniformed code enforcement officer in the city will be a big help. Crawford urged residents to report illegal short term renters to the sheriff’s office.

“We are going to address the issue,” Crawford said. “The law enforcement officers will be getting their wheels (going) on it.”

The topic also will be discussed at the City Commission January workshop session, Crawford said.

Poe vowed to make illegal short term rentals a priority until the issue is solved.

“I will stay on it,” she said. “I won’t let the ball fall.”