CLEARWATER - North Clearwater Beach residents will continue to live with short-term renters in their midst, courtesy of a ruling handed down by Circuit Court Judge Nelly Khouzam on April 20th.
Responding to the complaints by North Beach residents of the noise, littering and parking violations that accompanied short-term renting in their community, the City of Clearwater made a revision to its zoning ordinance in April 2003, clarifying certain definitions relating to residential property use and prohibiting rentals periods shorter than one month.
A lawsuit filed in February 2006 by owners of 31 single-family homes on Clearwater Beach challenged the city's enforcement of the new code, claiming that their properties should be entitled to grandfathering because they had been rented for short-terms prior to the 2003 code revision and that the prior code did not prohibit short-term rentals.
The city, represented by Assistant City Attorney Leslie Dougall-Sides, claimed that short-term rentals have always been illegal, and were prohibited by both the 1980 and 1999 City Codes. In her decision last week, Khouzam wrote, "However, Defendant [City of Clearwater] is unable to point specifically to any section within the code that expressly prohibits short term rentals prior to the enactment of the 2003 Ordinance."
Khouzam made two key findings. First, she decided that short-term rentals were not illegal prior to 2003; "The Court finds that short term rentals of properties on Clearwater Beach were not prohibited under either the 1980 or 1999 Codes. Even piecing together various portions of the code does not provide sufficiently definite notice in commonly understood language to citizens of ordinary intelligence of what was prohibited."
Secondly, Khouzam found that the 31 properties involved in the lawsuit could continue to be rented short term; "The Court finds that the short term rental of the properties at issue in this litigation are all established nonconforming lawful uses that are entitled to grandfather status, exempting them for the application of the 2003 Ordinance."
In her order, Khouzam identified the following 31 grandfathered properties:
- Eldorado Avenue - numbers 831, 843, 847, 864, 971, 975, 979, 1068, 1021, 1024
- Bruce Avenue - numbers 755, 805
- Gardenia Street - number 65
- Lantana Avenue - numbers 810, 918, 966
- Laurel Avenue - number 22
- Mandalay Avenue - numbers 724, 770, 849, 849 ½, 963, 963.5, 974, 1012, 1020
- Narcissus Avenue - 934, 940, 947, 975, 980
Asked if the city contemplated an appeal of the decision, Dougall-Sides wrote, "We will have to weigh the pros and cons. It may come up for discussion before the City Council."
Although the city lost the case regarding the 31 properties that have been grandfathered by Khouzam, its enforcement efforts on other short-term rentals will not diminish. Jeff Kronschnabl, Clearwater's Director of Development and Neighborhood Services wrote, "Our staff will continue to do our due diligence with investigating all reported property violations regarding short-term rentals. I have instructed Development Services Manager Bob Hall to handle the investigations in the same manner as he has in the past. His successful 'findings of violation' rulings on the short-term rental cases presented to the City's Municipal Code Board clearly demonstrates his expertise in meeting the many and varied requirements necessary to police the illegal short-term rental activities brought to our attention."