Realtor warns the public to be cautious about buying property for investment purposes without checking on zoning restrictions
Illegal short-term home rentals remain a concern to Siesta Key residents, as evidenced by comments and questions directed to a Realtor during the Jan. 9 Siesta Key Association (SKA) meeting.
County staff is continuing to do its best to address the complaints, SKA directors reported.
And the Realtor himself — Curt Ware of the Keller Williams firm in Sarasota —warned that agents selling property do not always know — or relate — accurate information about restrictions on parcels. People looking to invest in a home or condominium that they can live in while on vacation, and then use to earn income through rentals, need to be cautious, he added.
As Ware was providing a general update about transactions on the barrier island, SKA member Michael Holderness, a property owner and manager on the island, took the opportunity to ask the following question, “What would be your guess about… illegal RSF residential single-family rentals on the island? ”
“Holy cow,” was Ware’s initial response. “It’s incredible out here… Probably over 250 or 350 illegal rentals between homes and condos on the Key,” Ware added.
When a SKA member asked for confirmation that single-family homes legally can be rented no more frequently than every 30 days, Ware replied that that is true, unless the owner is a member of a homeowners association that has different rules.
SKA Director Jean Cannon also pointed out that some areas with single-family homes on the island have different regulations. For example, she said, part of Canal Road is zoned to allow weekly rentals.
“That’s correct,” Ware said.
Areas around Siesta Village and the South Village are dominated by residential multi-family (RMF)zoning, Ware also noted. Those properties can be rented in some cases on a daily basis or a 3-day basis, he told the audience.
“It’s an issue out here on the Key for sure,” Ware summed up the illegal rentals situation.
SKA Director Joe Volpe — who was not present that evening — has done extensive work on behalf of the nonprofit in trying to help county Code Enforcement staff pursue cases against homeowners who violate the county’s regulations, Director Robert Luckner noted.
Code Enforcement staff members have had trouble collecting the necessary data to prove their allegations of property owners violating the county regulations, Luckner continued. However, he added that he believed the Key’s primary Code Enforcement officer, Susan Stahley, has “some test cases… now.
”When SNL asked county staff about that, Media Relations Officer Drew Winchester responded in a Jan. 13 email on behalf of Code Enforcement: “They are notworking on test cases. They are citing the transient rental code, when applicable.”
The code makes it clear that in county districts zoned for Residential Single-Family (RSF)homes, “All leases must be ATLEAST 30 days emphasis in a flyer Winchester provided the News Leader. ”Asked how many illegal short-term rentals the Code Enforcement staff is pursuing on Siesta, Winchester told SNL on Jan. 15 that three Notices of Violations had been issued. “All three are pending Affidavit of Violation,” he added.
County staff has explained that when a Code Enforcement officer has sufficient documentation ofa violation, the officer issues a Notice of Violation to the property owner. That advises the owner to correct the situation. Then, after what the County Code says is “a reasonable period of time,” if the situation continues, the affidavit is issued. That can lead to a hearing before a Code Enforcement Special Magistrate and, potentially, a court hearing.
Worries about real estate agents
During the discussion SKA President Catherine Luckner told Ware, “I’ve always wondered, is there any requirement by the state or Florida Statute that Realtors have to disclose to the buyer how the zoning of a parcel impacts the use?”
“Real good question, ”Ware replied. “My answer is, I don’t know. … If so, there’d be a lot of people in trouble.”
He is quite familiar, he indicated, with examples of real estate agents not having given buyers the correct information about properties before making sales. “I’ve helped people out of nightmare scenarios.”
Marlene Merkle, an Avenida de Mayo resident, pointed out that she has lived on Avenida de Mayo for 39 years and has worked for the Venice Area Board of Realtors for 37 years (she is the executive director). If an agent is aware of issues with a property on the market, she said, the agent is legally obligated to provide that information to a prospective buyer. “We’ve had properties on our street that were illegally rented,” she added.
“The information a buyer receives is only as good as the agent knows,” Ware pointed out. Conveyance of inadequate information to prospective buyers is “rampant out here on the Key, ”he said, though a number of agents on Siesta “are very good.”
Ware advised the audience members, “Be careful.”
SKA Director Robert Luckner talked of steps the nonprofit’s leaders have taken to try to prevent problems. For example, he said, “If you’re renting, you cannot claim a homestead exemption… We started reporting people to Sarasota County Property Appraiser Bill Furst, and he was really happy. It slowed things down a little bit.”
Moreover, Merkle of Avenida de Mayo explained that a person can make an anonymous report to the Sarasota County Property Appraiser’s Office.
Robert Luckner further noted that the County Commission had approved a change in its Code Enforcement regulations to provide for the imposition of a fine up to $5,000 a day, instead of the $250-per-day minimum for violations of the rental regulations. He called the latter “a slap on the wrist.”
Matt Osterhoudt, director of the county’s Planning and Development Services Department, explained to SKA members in January 2019 that the $5,000 fine would be considered in the most egregious cases.
“Don’t stop complaining,” Luckner urged the audience members.