County looks for answers to short-term rental problems

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Sarasota County’s Planning and Development Services staff has offered various suggestions to the County Commission in response to the board’s latest request for ideas about how best to deal with illegal, short-term vacation rentals.

Among the information in a new report, staff provided details about how three other communities are handling the same types of problems that have become more common in Sarasota County’s jurisdiction, especially on Siesta Key.

The primary concern, Planning and Development staff stressed, is that the commissioners must be careful about any action they take, so as not to endanger the regulations their predecessors enacted about a decade ago.

An October 2018 report to the board members regarding vacation rental regulations in the county code — which was included in the new document — said “The county is constrained in making amendments to the existing regulations,” as those have been “grandfathered in” by subsequent actions in the Florida Legislature. Generally, bills that have been filed for consideration apply to local laws that were adopted after June 1, 2011.

That October 2018 report added that the “specific scope of the [state] preemption is limited to: (1) prohibiting rental or vacation rentals; and (2) regulating the duration or frequency of rental or vacation rentals. Thus, the county can enact or amend ordinances governing vacation rentals, so long as they do not deal with these two subjects.”

The new report, released this spring, discusses how the cities of Holmes Beach and Anna Maria, plus Monroe County (where the Florida Keys are located) handle short-term rentals.

In Holmes Beach, the document says, any person who operates a vacation rental must apply for a vacation rental certificate.

“The application requires the property owner to certify compliance with the following: (1) Federal Emergency Management Agency regulations concerning use of ground-level space; (2) the validity of an active license from the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation; (3) the validity of an active resale certificate for sales tax; (4) collection and submission of the required tourist development tax; and (5) that the vacation rental property complies with all city ordinances.”

Section 5.2.3.a.1 of the Sarasota County Code does call for the following:

“The owner or managing agent of real property that is offered for rent or lease shall maintain records, including the names and addresses of the lessees, that are adequate to establish the period for which a unit is rented and the names of family members or unrelated individuals occupying the premises during each rental period. Such records shall be provided upon request to inspectors authorized by Sarasota County to enforce these regulations.”

Next, the report says, Anna Maria has a regulation that requires vacation rental registration.

“The application requires submittal of current and active licenses from the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation, evidence of compliance with tourist development tax requirements, an exterior sketch, and an interior sketch of the vacation rental facility. Every property owner must be available to handle complaints,” the report notes.

There are also maximum occupancy requirements.

As for Monroe County, a property owner must obtain an annual, “special vacation rental permit for each dwelling unit prior to renting any dwelling unit. The property owner is required to have a designated contact for responding to complaints by neighbors and must maintain a guest register, leases, and official complaint response records.”

The Monroe County Code also has “special provisions governing the number of motorized watercraft allowed, a prohibition against on-street parking, noise restrictions, and regulations governing trash and debris.”

As Sarasota County commissioners have pointed out, Siesta residents typically complain about multitudes of vehicles parked at homes rented for vacation purposes, as well as late-night noise and trash piled at the curbside by visitors who leave days before the weekly Waste Management pickup.

On Feb. 24, the commissioners discussed the complaints they have been hearing about short-term illegals. Chairman Alan Maio suggested the potential of hiring more county code enforcement staff, noting that many situations do arise at night and on weekends.

He also talked of the potential of “some sort of ticketing mechanism.”

Even though the commissioners have conducted several regular meetings since the latest report was completed, none of them brought up its findings. However, the potential exists for such discussions during their upcoming budget workshops — especially if any of them does wish to pursue the option of hiring more code enforcement personnel.

Three days have been set aside in late June for them to delve into planning for the 2022 fiscal year, which will begin Oct. 1

Tracking the rentals

The March 23 report further notes that several software packages provide opportunities to monitor/track short-term rental activities.

Based on staff’s preliminary analysis of such software, the report adds, the packages “appear to track real-time information from rental on-line platforms,” such as Vrbo and Airbnb.

“The software also can determine whether [the property owners] have proper permits or registrations that may be required by a jurisdiction and monitor listing calendars for reservations.”

Nonetheless, the report continues, “While these types of software may provide additional information for the county, additional research would be need to be conducted to determine what resources would be needed to implement and administer such a system, as well as whether any county regulations would need to be adjusted that correlate with the tracking [for example, the creation of a registry]. Even with the use of this type of software,” the report cautions that staff still would have to contend with challenges related to enforcing the regulations “and proving actual transactions for illegal short-term rental activity.”

The report adds that the county does have software in place that tracks existing violations at properties.

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