ST. PETERSBURG— The only clue a 1925 Spanish bungalow on a quiet, red brick street in Central Oak Park is breaking the law: an inconspicuous mechanical keyless lock on the front door.
But the ad on vrbo.com (Vacation Rental By Owner) showcasing the house tantalizes potential short-term renters with the tagline: “Bring Fido, Sleeps 9!”
The 1,299-square-foot house in the 3700 block of Third Ave. N fetches $175 per night or $875 a week. The owner, who bought and remodeled it late last year said he’s never gotten a complaint from the neighbors. It’s popular with guys on spring training vacations.
“In my opinion, it really helps the neighborhood,” said George Roberts, who bought the house with his wife late last year.
Neighbors said the guests have been quiet and have not caused problems.
But renting a home for less than one month is illegal under city code. And homeowners who rent over Internet-based companies like Airbnb or VRBO do not pay state sales or county bed taxes. Small motel and bed and breakfast operators complain that the business model endangers their survival.
More than 1,000 properties are listed for St. Petersburg on Airbnb (although some may be in neighboring cities or unincorporated areas) and several hundred more on VRBO.
That’s not likely to change. Council member Karl Nurse isn’t trying to stuff the sharing economy back into its bottle, but he does want the property owners to pay their fair share.
“It’s such a worldwide phenomenon, I’ve finally come to the conclusion that there is no chance of outlawing it,” he said.
Instead, Nurse wants to require anyone renting a house or a room online to pay their fair share of taxes and buy a license. His introduced his proposal at Thursday’s City Council meeting.
State law prohibits local governments from regulating short-term rentals unless they already had a law on the books before 2011. St. Petersburg did, but if the city tweaks its law it may lose its grandfathered status, said Todd Yost, the city’s codes compliance assistance director.
Currently, the city enforces its ordinance when someone complains. In 2014, only seven or eight violations were enforced, Yost said.
In recent years, several cities have moved to tax Internet-based rentals, including San Francisco, a city mentioned by Nurse in his memo to council.
Other Pinellas County cities have cracked down on short-term rentals recently, including Clearwater, assessing fines for infractions. But many of those violations were for beach houses that attracted large, raucous party crowds. So far, Clearwater hasn’t discussed legalizing and taxing online rentals.
In Pinellas County, hotels, motels and bed and breakfast establishments pay 5 percent bed tax and 7 percent sales tax.
In St. Petersburg, the online rentals seem fairly scattered throughout the city. Any ordinance would have to stiffen penalties for those who did not comply, Nurse said.
An ordinance would only reward scofflaws, said George Roberts, the owner of the bungalow advertised on VRBO.
“They’ll always be those who sneak through. It’ll just punish those who pay the taxes,” said Roberts, who lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Ed Caldwell, owner of Dickens House Bed and Breakfast in the Old Northeast neighborhood, said Internet- based providers hurt his business. Aside from skipping many kinds of taxes, they don’t have to pay for fire inspections, expensive fire protection systems and other costs.
They also aren’t supposed to market themselves as “bed and breakfast” businesses unless they meet a range of criteria in state and local law, he said.
“The laws are all there, but nobody wants to enforce them,” Caldwell said.
For its part, Airbnb appears willing to work things out with the city. The multi-billion dollar company has started collecting hotel and tourist taxes on behalf of guests in Portland, San Francisco, San Jose, Chicago, Washington, D.C. and Malibu, Calif.
“Airbnb is focused on making neighborhoods better places to live and visit — and part of that includes working with lawmakers to do the right thing on this issue,” said the company in an e-mailed response to a request for comment.
Times researcher Caryn Baird contributed to this story. Contact Charlie Frago at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8459. Follow @CharlieFrago.
St. Petersburg mulls short-term internet rentals 05/07/15
[Last modified: Thursday, May 7, 2015 8:28pm]
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