ANJ Investigates

INVESTIGATES: ‘It’s just not appropriate:’ Local city council candidate tied to Airbnb complaints

NEPTUNE BEACH, Fla. — Neptune Beach is a quiet beachside community and Steve Hould wants to keep it that way. He’s complained about the Airbnb next door, which is owned by Christine Burke, who is a candidate for the city council.

When Action News Jax’s Ben Becker asked him how his relationship with his neighbor is going, he said, “Tense.”

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An Action News Jax investigation found Burke received two cease-and-desist orders from Neptune Beach code enforcement in 2017 for “advertising and/or renting of your property for a term less than 28 days” -- short-term rentals “expressly prohibited” in Neptune Beach for two decades.

“They stay for 2-3 days and they are gone,” Hould said.

Hould sent Becker pictures from the past six years of numerous cars from Burke’s driveway -- including ones from as far away as Texas, Maryland and Pennsylvania.

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Burke posted about the issue on social media saying the cease-and-desist letters were because of “visiting family and friends, whose stays varied in length.”

Our Action News Jax investigation found from 2017-2022, Burke’s property received 114 Airbnb reviews -- that’s 18 1/2 per year for six years -- but there can only be 13 per year if you are renting for 28 days. Those numbers do not include people who may have stayed at the property but didn’t leave a review at all.

One review from November 2020 read they enjoyed “our week in Jacksonville,” and another from last May read, “I spent a fabulous two weeks” at the home.

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Both reviews indicated they stayed fewer than 28 days.

Burke said in a video message on social media, “If you have any questions, get to me directly so I can answer them.”

Becker had questions and called Burke for an interview, but after numerous invitations and agreeing to let her videotape it, she declined because I wouldn’t provide my questions ahead of time, only the topics, which is standard practice.

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Becker went to Burke’s listed address to get some answers, but there was no answer.

“At the bare minimum it’s an optics issue,” University of North Florida Political Science Professor Michael Binder said. “Sometimes people may be doing things that may not be illegal, but questionable or counter to the wishes of the community, and in those circumstances, folks often don’t win elections.”

The City of Neptune Beach said that since January 2021, there have been 23 complaints about short-term rentals with six open investigations, but none of those are against Burke.

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In October, the City entered into a contract with Deckard Technologies to help it crack down on the problem.

Hould said he wants a better neighbor.

“It’s the personal use, the commercial gain, and to deny it’s going on, it’s just not appropriate,” Hould said.

Burke said she currently does not have a short-term rental in Neptune Beach. Becker learned the listing was taken down in July around the time Burke filed to run for office.

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