Bradenton approves regulations for vacation rental homes

Property owners who choose to rent their homes out to guests will soon be subject to new rules and regulations in the city of Bradenton.

Following a few weeks of debate and input from residents, the Bradenton City Council voted Wednesday morning to approve a licensing program that aims to inspect and keep track of short-term rental properties. Similar programs already exist on Anna Maria Island.

Short-term rentals, also called vacation rentals, allow guests to rent an entire home for a few days or a few months. Before the board’s vote, property owners did not need to request the city’s permission to rent out their homes. Bradenton officials say there are more than 600 short-term rentals within city limits.

Vacation rental properties have been popularized by websites like Vrbo and Airbnb that allow homeowners to list their properties on online platforms. Florida law prevents local cities from banning short-term rentals or determining how long guests are allowed to stay.

Under the rules of Bradenton’s program, landlords will need to apply for a license from city officials. The approval of a license will be subject to an inspection that will give city staff the authority to limit occupancy and parking based on the size of the home.

Councilwoman Marianne Barnebey first raised the issue last February, after sharing some of the complaints from neighbors with her fellow board members.

“95% of the laws we make are for 5% of the people. What happens with Airbnbs is that people are basically given an exemption to our zoning laws,” Barnebey said. “We can require permits for people who want to take down a tree or put up a fence, but we have no influence over where they can operate or how long they can operate an Airbnb, but it’s a business. When you have a business, you have to follow business rules.”

Councilmen Patrick Roff and Bill Sanders joined Barnebey to vote in favor of the short-term rental regulations. Councilwomen Jayne Kocher and Pamela Coachman cast dissenting votes.

What will Bradenton’s short-term rental rules do?

Without regulations, board members said some short-term rentals get away with causing neighborhood disturbances with noise, parking and trash issues.

“Our citizens want us to protect them,” Roff said. “That’s our job.”

In recent public meetings, neighbors have spoken with the board to ask for protections and guidelines for short-term rental properties to follow. Even when complaints are filed about rowdy neighbors, it can take days for the Bradenton Police Department to track down the landlord, Police Chief Melanie Bevan previously told board members.

The city’s new program aims to resolve that issue by requiring short-term rental operators to provide contact information for a property manager.

“We have had a lot of absentee landlords that we can’t contact when there’s a problem, and it’s ongoing,” Barnebey added.

Some short-term rental hosts have criticized the city for approving the program. They said the rules are too broad to be effective and predicted they would only limit the number of vacation rentals available in the city.

“If I have to pay hundreds of dollars in fees every year, I’m selling my property and telling people not to move here because the city rules suck,” Cornelia Winn, an Airbnb host with multiple properties in Bradenton, told board members.

Other hosts have called on city officials to enforce rules already on the books to punish hosts who allow guests to create conflict with neighbors. The board members who voted against the program agreed with that suggestion.

Councilwoman Kocher said she believed the city’s licensing program would “create a huge quagmire,” and suggested a different approach that would only allow the city to target rental properties that had become repeat offenders.

The City Council made changes to the original proposal that came forward in January by removing a few rules that hosts called “burdensome” and invasive.

Bradenton’s program will not require interior and exterior sketches as part of the application, landline phones at each rental property or a 2-year record of the contact information from previous guests.

How will Bradenton determine maximum occupancy?

The occupancy limit will be based on the number of bedrooms and square footage. The new system will limit guests to the smallest number according to the following formula:

  • Two guests per bedroom, plus two additional guests
  • One guest per 150 square feet of temperature-controlled space
  • Up to 12 people

For example, a 2,000-square-foot, three-bedroom home would be limited to eight guests — two people per bedroom and two other guests. However, even large properties will be limited to 12 guests.

Once a maximum occupancy has been set by the city, it will be illegal for short-term rentals to advertise an ability to host more guests than the city allows.

Owners will also be asked to provide one space of off-street vehicle parking for every four occupants. For example, a vacation rental that houses 12 guests would need to provide three parking spaces.

Some properties advertise the ability to house more than 20 guests. Bradenton will grandfather those existing properties to continue housing two guests per bedroom, plus four additional guests.

The grandfathered status requires proof of an existing vacation rental and will last for five years before expiring.

When can you apply for a vacation rental license in Bradenton?

The city’s regulation program will go into effect in January 2023, but rental operators will need to submit applications for a license before then.

Because inspections will need to be scheduled, landlords are asked to submit their applications before Aug. 1 in order to receive their certificate of registration before the end of the year. Application forms are not available yet and will be provided by the city at a later date.

City Administrator Rob Perry said Bradenton hasn’t nailed down the final price of the application fee, but it is expected to cost between $200 and $300. Vacation rental operators will need to renew their licenses annually, city officials say.

riverview neighborhood tt.jpg
01/18/2022—Bradenton is a popular destination with its location on the riverfront and quick access to island beaches. Hosts who operate Airbnbs and other vacation rentals may need to follow new sets of rules in the city of Bradenton. Owners are pushing back while neighbors welcome the changes. Tiffany Tompkins

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Ryan Callihan is the Bradenton Herald’s County Reporter, covering local government and politics. On the weekends, he also covers breaking news. Ryan is a graduate of USF St. Petersburg.
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