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Pinellas County approved to resume operating vacation rentals

The change takes place "effective immediately."

TREASURE ISLAND, Fla. — Pinellas County is the first in the Tampa Bay area approved by the state to reopen vacation rentals.

Effective immediately, rental locations can begin accepting reservations, check-ins and reopen with restrictions, following approval Wednesday by the Department of Business and Professional Regulation.

In its letter of approval to county administrator Barry Burton, the state said Pinellas County had "established the necessary plans for operation of vacation rentals at this time," approving the plans as submitted.

The approval comes five days after Burton submitted the request, in which he said tourism in the county supported more than 100,000 jobs and contributed more than $9 billion to the local economy in 2019—and the county needs to get back to that.

"As we start to recover from the global pandemic inclusion of all the tourism businesses is important for not only employment but continued economic success," Burton wrote to the state.

The news is a welcome relief to Dennis DiTinno, CEO of Liberte Management, which operates eight rental properties throughout the county from Pass-A-Grille to Treasure Island.

"I'll tell you it's been a challenge," DiTinno said. "In the first 30 days, we lost half a million dollars."

He says his staff has been preparing for the expected restrictions by enacting enhanced cleaning measures, increasing notices around properties, and hanging signage outside of units regarding the cleaning practices that are completed prior to each guest's stay. 

DiTinno says they're in the process of deciding whether to extend the time between stays by several more days or to invest in near-hospital grade cleaning equipment like a fogger.

The Florida Vacation Rental Management Association says 26 percent of the entire country's vacation rentals are in Florida.

"It's sizeable," said executive director Denis Hanks, adding the timing of approval couldn't be better.

"Memorial Day overall is a big weekend," he said. 

"We had some property managers [Wednesday] that were talking about having to call people and cancel bookings because they hadn't heard anything yet so this is just a huge weight off the shoulders for many of those folks."

Pinellas County is now one of just 16 counties approved by the state to reopen short-term rentals.

Vacation rentals across the state were put on hold on March 27 by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis due to coronavirus concerns. 

"The concern is the people in some of these hotspots wanting to come here. Now's not really the time to do that," DeSantis said at the time. 

Initially, the suspension was in place for a two-week time period but was continually extended until last week when the governor issued his latest additions to his Phase One plan to reopen that state.

Counties could now submit for approval to open and operate vacation rentals. Both a written request and a safety plan were required to be sent to the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation.

Under Pinellas County's safety plan for short-term rentals to reopen, property managers must abide by guidance outlined in 13 categories. The reopen plan also includes a mandate that vacationers from areas DeSantis has designated as high-risk, including the New York area, must reserve for periods longer than the quarantine period established in the governor’s executive orders.

Here are some the basics: 

  • Guests will be advised to practice social distancing and seating areas are to be reconfigured to match
  • CDC resources must be provided to employees, contractors, or any guest while staying or working on the property
  • minimize direct contact through remote check-in and check-out procedures for guests
  • Hand sanitizer must be in all employee work areas, and all employees should wear masks, gloves, or have a plexiglass barrier separating them from guests when present
  • Anyone exhibiting COIVD-19 symptoms should be sent home from work and required to self-isolate
  • Additional and extensive cleaning/disinfecting in high-touch and communal areas is required
  • Signage or notices regarding the cleaning practices completed before guests stay must be posted
  • Srequent and lengthy (at least 20 seconds) handwashing must be complete by employees
  • Pool and beach use should abide by CDC social distancing guidelines

You can read the full plan below or by clicking here

RELATED: Breaking down Gov. DeSantis' new phase 1 guidance: What does it mean?

RELATED: Florida vacation home owners sue Gov. DeSantis over ban on rentals during pandemic

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