CLEARWATER - City officials attended the Clearwater Beach Association meeting on Tuesday night to discuss the decision of Judge Nelly H. Khouzam about short term rentals on North Clearwater Beach. When the City of Clearwater set out to enforce a law which dated back to 1980 and was reaffirmed in 1999, they insisted that neither law allowed rentals in single family residential communities to be less that 30 days in length. Landlords who were then renting for less than 30 days, objected.
Then, in 2003, the City passed a law which, they said, clarified the earlier laws on the subject. When the City attempted to enforce this law, 31 landlords who claimed they had been renting short term since before 2003, sued. Their attorneys claimed that neither of the earlier laws were clear about the prohibition of short term rentals. On April 27, 2007, Judge Khouzam agreed with them and ordered that all 31 properties should be considered legal non-conforming uses.
At Tuesday's CBA meeting, City Attorney Pam Akin and Assistant City Attorney Leslie Dougall-Sides talked about the meaning of the Judge's decision. They explained that City Codes allowed "grandfathered," or non-conforming uses until the use is abandoned for a period of six months or more. They also pointed out that no expansion of the building would be allowed for a "grandfathered" use. The judge, however, had made it clear that a change of ownership would not erase the non-conformity.
"And," added Clearwater Code Enforcement Director Jeff Kronschnabl, "this does not exempt those properties from nuisance complaints."
Both Kronschnabl and Attorney Dougall-Sides said they had already received calls from other property owners in the North Beach, asking about grandfathering of their properties. But Attorney Akin stated, "In response to grandfathering of any additional properties, we would ask about whether or not they have been paying the tourist tax (required in Pinellas County for short term rentals), how frequently and how recently they have had short term rentals and documentation on all of these."
Kronschnabl reported that his office would continue to require that they be given the name and phone number of property managers to contact about reported violations of law and other problems. He reported that 80 properties were originally reported for violation of the law on short term rentals. Of that number 11 cases were brought to the Code Enforcement Board and were brought into compliance. Twenty-eight cases were brought into compliance without litigation or enforcement action, making a total of 39 cases solved out of the original 80.
Jerry Murphy, president of the Beach Association, asked about the possibility and viability of appealing the judge's decision. Cautiously quoting statistics that only 15 percent of appeals succeed, the attorneys stated that they felt, nevertheless, there were reasons to be optimistic an appeal could succeed.
"I believe both the 1980 code and the 1999 code prohibited short term rentals," said Dougall-Side, quoting several sections of those codes.
Tonight (May 3) the Clearwater City Council will consider whether or not to appeal Judge Khouzam's decision. If there is an appeal, it must be entered before May 18.
In consideration of the fact that the short term rental problem in single family neighborhoods is not confined to Clearwater Beach, but is a concern of all Clearwater's neighborhoods, the CBA Board of Directors voted to urge the City Council to appeal the case. In a separate motion, they recommended that an attorney who specializes in appeals be employed to be part of the team.
"If we can spend $50,000 of our tax money to protect a bunch of curbs, (on Coronado Avenue), I should think we could spend some on this," commented one board member, after the vote.