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Anna Maria property owners demand over $20 million in damages

ANNA MARIA, Fla. (WWSB) - The first year of stricter rental restrictions on Anna Maria Island could end up costing the city millions.

In Florida, a property owner can take legal action if a local ordinance devalues their property in any way. It's called the Bert Harris Act, and the city plans to individually address all 59 of these pending claims.

In Anna Maria, full-time residents can sometimes feel like the minority. For Darlene Head, the price of paradise is sharing her street with newer, bigger houses.

"Larger rental units with multiple bedrooms that tend to be very short term, and bring in what we call the 'weekend party,'" says Head.

When the city passed an ordinance last fall that, among other things, outlawed more than eight renters at a time, she gave it a thumbs up.

"I was pleased that they took some action because I thought we did need some parameters," recalls Head.

However, for some, those parameters are too tight, especially the new occupancy limit. Several property owners are taking legal action, saying the city owes them each thousands in anticipated lost revenue.

The Bradenton law firm Najmy/Thompson, who is representing more than half these claims, was unavailable for comment Thursday. Several rental agents on the island tell us they believe owners are well within their rights.

Mayor Dan Murphy doesn't seem to be worried.

"What's being demanded and what's reality are two different figures," he says.

According to Murphy, several claims don't take into account the law's five-year grandfathering clause.

"If you look at the $23.3 million that's being asked for, there would be a significant difference, a five-year gap, in most cases on these claims," says Murphy.

Thursday night, commissioners will consider settlements for 24 of the claims. Murphy also says he doesn't anticipate any upcoming changes to the ordinance itself.

The city has 150 days to settle these claims from the date they were filed, then owners can take civil action. September 24 marks the end of that grace period for the first eight claims filed in April.