In response to consistent complaints from residents over many months, and after a considerable amount of research by officials, Gulfport is beefing up its enforcement of short-term rental violations.
Council consensus at an Oct. 20 special called workshop meeting was to direct City Manager Jim O’Reilly to move forward with the hiring of an additional code enforcement officer as well as a software package that will help identify rental properties operating outside the permitted zoning districts in Gulfport. Both of these expenses were included in the FY 2023 budget in anticipation of this action.
Councilmembers agreed that the additional resources will help reduce the onus on citizens to go through the often-complicated process of filing complaints against neighbors, while also addressing an issue for which there is virtually no recourse as far as tightening existing regulations.
“You are probably not in a position to legislate your way out of this,” O’Reilly told the council, noting the 2014 state legislation that has often been discussed and which prohibits the local municipality from making any changes to its current ordinances without losing the authority to govern in that area. Gulfport is one of the few cities that has an ordinance addressing short-term rentals, which it passed in 2011.
Gulfport considers any property that gets rented for a period of less than 30 days, more than three times in a 12-month period a short-term rental.
Bills to regulate short-term rentals are brought up every year by the state legislature and never get past the committee level, O’Reilly added.
Structures in the category of transient accommodations, under which short-term rentals fall in Gulfport, are allowed in specific areas of the city either as a permitted use or a conditional use. Those are mainly along Gulfport Boulevard as well as Shore Boulevard and Beach Boulevard in the Waterfront Redevelopment District.
O’Reilly said there are numerous rentals operating outside the permitted zoning district. The ensuing discussion referenced various ways some property owners try to circumvent the city’s ordinance so that they can profit on their property.
“If there’s a law, someone is going to find a way to break it,” said Councilman Michael Fridovich (Ward IV).
O’Reilly also pointed out that, on the flip side, some rentals have provided benefits to the community by improving properties that were not being properly taken care of and ultimately contributing to rising property values in entire neighborhoods.
Fewer than a half-dozen complaints this year from residents have been followed through to completion, O’Reilly said, because of the arduous process the complainant must complete, from compiling documentation to testifying before the special magistrate. One reason the complaint process has been used sparingly is a provision in the state statute that prohibits the city from acting on anonymous complaints.
Mayor Sam Henderson pointed out that it was only five years ago that citizens filled the meeting room and petitioned the council to abolish its ordinance and allow short-term rentals to be operated throughout the city without oversight.
“People were actually asking for more,” he said. “It’s funny how things change.”