Couple wants Biloxi vacation rental law changed

BILOXI, MS (WLOX) - Biloxi is warning homeowners that the city is taking a hard look at those who may be illegally renting their houses to vacationers. In Biloxi, all rentals in single family neighborhoods have to be for at least 30 days, but officials said some property owners are renting for only a few days. City officials said they are investigating more than 20 cases, most of which stem from complaints.

"When someone in a single family neighborhood sees someone changing in and out of the single family house next door, naturally it's going to raise concerns about who are these people," said Biloxi Community Development Director Jerry Creel. "What are they doing here? What kind of threat do they pose to the neighborhood? We get complaints from the neighbors, and we go out and investigate."

Creel said he believes some home owners are unaware of the ordinance forbidding short term rentals in single family residential neighborhoods, so the city wants to get the word out.

A Biloxi couple would like to see the city change its policy. Jerry and Jan Gammons believe there is a way that both homeowners and hotel owners can benefit from lodging people who visit the Coast.

At the moment, all rental homes the Gammons own are considered by the State of Mississippi to be long term rentals or rentals done by contract for at least 90 days. What that means is the state currently does not require the Gammons to pay sales tax. People who stay for less time, or who stay for 90 days without signing a contract at the start, are considered transient guests, and Mississippi requires that sales tax be paid.

The Gammons have done short term rentals in the past, and when they do, they say they pay all the required sales taxes including the 12 percent Harrison County tourism tax.

"I had them pull up our account, and they verified and went through it that I was paying the proper amount," said Jan.

Biloxi defines short term renter a little differently than the state. Anyone who stays fewer than 30 days is considered short term. According to the zoning ordinance, that's not allowed in single family neighborhoods. The Gammons said they always follow Biloxi regulations and do not rent for less than 30 days, but they would like to see the ordinance changed.

"We would like to see the city have provisions for short term rentals that's regulated. That we have to have a license or a permit to allow us to do this for the people that are going to come down and rent a residence and not willing to stay in a hotel or casino property," said Jerry. "There's various reasons people stay in these types of properties. They might be handicap. They may have elderly parents with them. They may have small children with them. They may have pets. They're going to rent a residential type property. They're not going to rent a property such as a hotel or casino property to stay with their family. We would love to see this regulated and licensed by the City of Biloxi."

The Gammons said they believe it's possible for both home owners and hotels to profit by catering to different kinds of clientele, especially during major events like Cruisin' the Coast.

"There's an economic benefit to renting a home for a home as well as renting a motel. Someone can come to our city and spend money and enjoy time on our Coast," said Jan.

Meanwhile, Creel said he doesn't think vacation rentals of a few days are appropriate for single family neighborhoods.

"I think people have a right to expect sanctuary in their neighborhood," said Creel. "The adverse conditions that are brought on by short term rental. You're introducing basically a quasi commercial operation into a single family neighborhood."

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