Apr 12, 2024 - News

St. Pete Airbnb sleuth floods city with complaints

Illustration of a paintbrush painting over the word "Welcome" on a door mat.

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Armed with reverse image search and aggrieved by St. Petersburg's unaffordable housing market, Marley Price has become a thorn in the side of Airbnb owners across the city.

State of play: Since late February, the 27-year-old resident has flagged more than 100 homes she alleged were illegally operating as short-term rentals.

  • She's sent property owners into a frenzy and gained a flock of admirers on social media, where a post about her activity reached more than a million people.

Why it matters: The complaints and reaction underscore the polarizing nature of short-term rentals listed on sites like Airbnb and VRBO β€” particularly in a city struggling with a housing crisis.

The big picture: How and whether to regulate vacation rentals has come up repeatedly in coastal communities across the state and has been a topic of debate in Tallahassee for years, including during the most recent lawmaking session.

Zoom in: St. Pete's zoning regulations allow property owners to rent out their homes month to month, Housing and Neighborhood Services administrator Amy Foster said in an email. Rental terms shorter than 30 days are allowed only up to three times within a 365-day period.

  • Enforcing city codes is triggered by complaints, Foster said.
  • Those found to be in violation receive a notice and have 20 days to fix the problem. If that doesn't work, they could face fines.

By the numbers: Since 2016, when the city launched a short-term rental tracking system, officials have received 1,012 complaints and issued 775 violations.

  • Of 108 cases stemming from Price's complaints, 88 resulted in violation notices. As of this week, no fines had been issued, Foster said.

Driving the news: Price's crusade began with an Airbnb down the street from her home in Disston Heights. She'd heard the owners were from out of state and listed the home on rental sites as a side hustle.

  • She found dozens of similar rentals across the city and started reporting them via St. Pete's SeeClickFix portal, keeping a detailed spreadsheet that she shared with City Council members.
  • She heard back from Council member Richie Floyd, who told Axios he shares her concerns about the impact on the housing market.

What she's saying: "These were once affordable houses β€” the starter homes that the city should want to have available," Price told Axios.

  • She added that she wants to see the city take a more proactive approach. She's gotten blowback from Airbnb owners, which she said shouldn't fall on individual residents.

The other side: Multiple property owners did not return Axios' request for comment. Two declined to talk on the record, with one citing concerns for her safety in part because of Price's wide-reaching post on X, formerly known as Twitter.

  • The post showed screenshots of Airbnb owners criticizing Price with their names blocked out by stickers of guns.
  • Price told Axios she blocked their names to shield their identities and that the stickers weren't directed at property owners.

As for the home near Price that started it all, it's still on Airbnb β€” with a minimum 30-day stay.

  • The owners are charging $9,500.
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