Sarasota County commission to revisit illegal vacation rental concerns

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In the face of pending state legislation, leaders want to take another look at local regulations and enforcement for short-term rentals

By ChrisAnn Allen

As more Siesta Key residences become vacation rentals, enforcement of regulations becomes a growing concern.
Following public comments of concern on March 5 regarding illegal vacation rentals, District 3 Sarasota County commissioner Neil Rainford addressed the issue during his comment portion of that county commission meeting.

Rainford

Rainford said he’s frequently heard members of the community expressing concerns with code enforcement for short-term rentals and suggested the commission revisit current policies to see if anything could be “shored up in a meaningful way.”
The other commissioners agreed and consensus was reached.
County Administrator Jonathan Lewis said multiple board assignments had previously been completed on the matter, but he could present those as a discussion item for a future meeting. Additionally, Lewis said state law was changed after the current code was approved by the board, so changing the code would mean losing grandfathered regulations.
“There would be the potential we’d lose what flexibility we do have by adjusting our current county code,” he said, adding he believes there also is pending legislation regarding vacation rentals.
Senate Bill 280, which would pre-empt vacation rental regulation to the state, was approved by the Florida House of Representatives and Florida Senate and is now in the hands of Gov. Ron DeSantis to enact or veto.

Trash piles up at the curb for a Siesta Key property deemed at the time as an illegal short-term rental. (file photo)

Rainford suggested Lewis outline the benefits of grandfathered regulations and said the city of Sarasota and other communities also are re-evaluating local regulations.
“Over the last several years it is becoming a bigger issue,” he said.
District 5 commissioner Ron Cutsinger said he sees it as primarily a code enforcement issue with the best course of action being to educate the public to notify the proper authorities when they see illegal activities occurring.
“This is an issue that has been on the radar,” he said, citing Siesta Key as the source and stating code enforcement has been on top of it.
However, District 4 commissioner Joe Neunder, with half of the Key in his district, said conversations he’s had with residents paint a different picture with illegal rentals posing a serious problem.
He said he is “very much for commissioner Rainford’s idea for revisitation and/or robust conversation about exactly what our responsibilities are, what we can, what we can’t do and how do we perhaps support our current enforcement division to enforce our ordinances that are currently on the books.”District 2 commissioner Mark Smith said he doesn’t think the county should risk grandfathered allowances by changing the ordinances, and mentioned zoning district restrictions, including no boarding houses or bed and breakfasts allowed in the Siesta Key Overlay District, as an example of a way to control some of the illegal activity. He also cited parking restrictions.
“The bottom line, I think, is enforcement,” he said. “And we may have to bump up the budget on our officers we have out there.”
Lewis said a presentation on vacation rental regulations and enforcement would be brought back for a future meeting, likely in April.
“Code enforcement has to be done pursuant to law,” Lewis said, adding that word-of-mouth or website advertisements do not constitute an infraction.
“You actually have to catch the person in the act of violating the code, so one of our best efforts has been education about what the county’s code allows,” he said.

ChrisAnn Allen
Author: ChrisAnn Allen

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