At the Anna Maria city commission’s Jan. 24 meeting, the vote was 4-1 on a motion by Commissioner Chuck Webb to prohibit rentals of less than 30 days in the city’s residential district. Webb claimed the city’s comprehensive plan prohibits rentals of less than 30 days in the Residential-1 district.
The vote was the commission’s first salvo in what is likely to become a legal battle over vacation rentals, the comprehensive plan and a 2011 statute that allows homeowners to rent their home for any length of time. The statute prohibits cities from imposing different regulations for rental homes and owner-occupied homes in the same zone.
Commissioner Dale Woodland voted no, saying he had just gotten Webb’s 13-page memo and wanted the commission to study the motion until its February meeting.
Webb, an attorney, said he spent hours reading over the city’s comprehensive plan and legal precedents before composing the memo, which was distributed to commissioners late Jan. 23 and earlier on Jan. 24.
Webb said the city already has an ordinance restricting short-term rentals in its zone, and the comprehensive plan states the city is “primarily a single-family residential community.”
But, he said, that character has changed since the comp plan was adopted in 2007 because of a proliferation of short-term “transient” rentals.
He claimed that 65 percent of all homes in the city now are vacation rentals. The majority of the city is no longer “primarily” for single-family residences and that violates the comp plan, he said.
The statute allows any homeowner in an incorporated municipality to rent his/her house without restriction on the length of stay. The bill grandfathered existing rental restrictions.
Webb maintains the city prohibited rentals of less than 30 days before the rental statute passed in 2011.
The packed commission chambers erupted in applause when Webb said short-term vacation rentals are ruining the quality of life for residents.
“This is nothing new,” Webb said. “The law has been on the books for years. The bottom line is if short-term rentals are not specifically allowed in the Residential-1 zone, then they are not permitted.”
In addition to the ROR and commercial zones distributed along Gulf Drive and Pine Avenue, there are recreational and public use zones, and R-1, the city’s only residential zone. Any existing duplexes were grandfathered and any remaining vacant duplex lots were eliminated in the 2007 comp plan.
Woodland liked portions of the motion, but asked commissioners to wait and allow time to study the ramifications and legality of the measure.
Chair John Quam asked city attorney Jim Dye for his opinion, but Dye said he just received the memo and needed time to review the statute and applicable case law. He also noted he and his siblings own a vacation rental in the city and he may need to excuse himself.
However, Dye said, at first glance, Webb’s memo is “a good starting point for the city.”
“You are not changing an ordinance, but as you know there is a statute that the city can’t treat short-term rental owners differently than other owners in the (R-1) zone,” Dye said.
Dye said if the motion is challenged in court, there could be an issue as to whether the city enforced the 30-day restriction before the statute existed.
“I’m still working my way through this, but if we proceed down this path and get sued, you can bring in the legality of House Bill 883 being constitutional,” he said.
Dye said he would prepare his opinion for the Feb. 14 commission meeting.
He noted there is a growing movement among other cities to ask their state legislators to look into problems with HB 883 during the upcoming 2013 legislative session. Legislative change is the best way to eliminate or amend HB 883, he said.
There was immediate opposition from the gallery to Webb’s motion.
Larry Chatt, broker and co-owner of Island Real Estate, which manages a large number of vacation rentals in the city, said, “I own a vacation rental in Anna Maria and I intend to litigate the issue. And I’m advising the owners of the properties we manage to do the same.”
He said enforcement of Webb’s motion may result in property owners becoming unable to pay mortgages and, if forced to sell, a glut of homes will come on the market, lowering values and curtailing Anna Maria’s tourism-based businesses.
Chatt told commissioners the economic repercussions would be “astronomical.”
Attorney Scott Rudacille of the law firm of Blalock Walters, P.A., told commissioners that he represents clients who own rental property in the city, and that the city has allowed these short-term rentals for decades.
He claimed the city can’t suddenly change its policy based upon an interpretation. The city should hold public hearings on the matter, he said.
Rudacille said there will be economic issues for property owners if their homes cannot be rented for less than 30 days, and his clients have told him “they intend to use all powers available to enforce their property rights.”
He declined to say if that meant bringing a lawsuit against the city.
Woodland said he “hated to see what is happening” and again urged restraint, saying more than 90 percent of short-term vacation rentals are good people who come to enjoy the city, don’t cause trouble and obey and respect city laws.
“We’re not being smart and studying this carefully. We all know we’re going to end up in court over this. I want changes, but I’m just not sure this is the road to go down,” Woodland added.
Commissioner Gene Aubry, however, said the city should take action and lead the issue.
“If they want to sue us, bring it on,” he said to another round of applause.
Mayor SueLynn said the motion was effective immediately, but city building official Bob Welch and Dye said they need time to review how it can be enforced.
Many of the short-term vacation rentals in Anna Maria’s residential zone have already been reserved for the February-April season and beyond, according to an unofficial survey of rental property managers.