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More on illegal short term rentals

By Rachel Brown Hackney

The Siesta Key Association is not the only organization pushing for enforcement of the county’s regulation prohibiting short-term property rentals in Residential Single Family (RSF) housing districts on the Key.

On Sept. 12, during the Open to the Public portion of the County Commission’s first public hearing on its 2019 fiscal year budget, a Siesta resident complained about a letter she had received from an organization called “Good Neighbors of Sarasota Beach. In that letter, the group identified itself as an association of more than “30 property owners and annual renters living on Avenida de Mayo, Avenida del Norte, Calle de Peru, Calle de Costa Rica, Calle de Rio, and the east side of Avenida de Cortez.”

“We have formed to fight the growing issue of illegal short-term rentals, in and around our Sarasota Beach sub-division,” the letter said. “Whether you are a year-round resident or a seasonal snowbird, you know these types of rentals have grown over the past few years. And you are also aware of how our neighborhood has been affected.”

The letter continued, “This neighborhood was once filled by families, retirees, and young, working people. Some were paying mortgages and others paid rent, but everyone took pride in this community.

Our neighborhood is now pocked by houses that change renters every week or more frequently. … Strangers wandering our streets, Cars overflowing driveways, garbage set out days ahead of pick up, and noise at all hours. These short-term landlords have stolen our community, degraded our lifestyle, and lowered our property values. Up to now, they have taken advantage of our good natures and the lack of zoning enforcement. But now, it is going to stop,” the letter said.

In a single-family housing district on Siesta Key, no property may be rented more than once every 30 days, the Sarasota County Code says.

“I myself don’t rent my house,” Martha Kim told the commissioners after explaining she had received the letter, which she called “very threatening.”

Her address is on Calle de Peru, according to the card she filled out to address the board.

Kim added that someone called the county’s Code Enforcement Division in the spring to report that she was renting her home illegally. “They caused me infinite amounts of trouble.”

“My house was in very bad shape when I bought it,” Kim told the board, adding that her renovation of it was expensive.  “It’s now a cute little Siesta Key Cottage,” she said. “It’s not a big house,” she continued, even though, she noted, the trend on Siesta is for bigger homes.

The owner of the only big house on her street has told her that her house is an eyesore, Kim added.

“These people who call themselves good neighbors are not really good neighbors,” she said, referring again to the letter.

When Chair Nancy Detert asked Kim whether she had brought the letter with her to the meeting, Kim said she had. Detert asked her to give it to the clerk to the board.

“We’re probably interested in trying to help you and look at where that came from,” Detert added.

“That would be really great,” Kim responded.

In regard to the short-term rental issue, she added, “I feel that [people] should be allowed to do what they want.”

SNL/Siesta Sand contacted Joe Volpe, the Siesta Key Association (SKA) director who has been the point person for that nonprofit in regard to concerns about illegal short-term rentals on the island. He was not familiar with the group named in the letter, he said, but he planned to contact it. The letter did include an email address and a post office box number in Sarasota.

The next speaker during the Sept. 12 Open to the Public period was Chad Waites, a Siesta property owner who said he is an Airbnb host. (He also addressed the board on Aug. 22.) Waites provided statistics about how much Tourist Development Tax — or “bed tax” — revenue the county has received from Airbnb, the online accommodations company.

Based on 2016 bookings, Waites pointed out, the county would have collected $355,000 in Tourist Development Tax revenue as a result of Airbnb rentals.

In May 2017, Waites continued, the County Commission and Airbnb finally reached an agreement on the organization’s payment of the 5% county bed tax from its hosts’ accommodations in the county.

In 2017, Waites said, the county documented more than 67,000 Airbnb guests. In June 2018, he added, Airbnb paid the county $978,000 in bed tax collections from rentals by its hosts. Through June of this fiscal year, he said, Airbnb had turned over $859,000 to the Sarasota County Tax Collector’s Office. “That’s on pace for four times the amount of 2016.”

Because of the intensity of the current red tide bloom this summer, Waites continued, if someone does a Google search for Siesta Key, all the person sees is news about red tide. “You don’t see ‘No. 1 Beach.’”

He added of Siesta, “It’s a ghost town now.”

Yet, the county’s rental rules will continue to force families, especially, to seek out other areas to stay when they do start returning to the county, he said.

The three primary complaints he has heard about short-term rentals, Waites continued, pertain to garbage cans put out too far in advance of the weekly collections and then remaining for days at the curbside after Waste Management makes its rounds; too much noise from guests; and too many vehicles parked at rental properties. Yet, he added, he has neighbors who are full-time residents and are guilty of such violations.

Waites suggested what he called an “action plan” to address the short-term rental issue:

  • Licensing of short-term rental businesses, with a mandatory registration requirement.
  • Establishment of occupancy limits.
  • Means of resolving complaints and an enforcement procedure for violations of code of conduct regulations.
  • Mandatory inspections and the naming of a local contact for emergency purposes.

“All I’m asking is to sit down and talk about this,” Waites added.

Commissioner Alan Maio — who represents District 4, which includes Siesta — told Waites he had received the email Waites had sent him and had spoken the previous day on the phone with a person calling on Waites’ behalf. “I think I referred you to Matt Osterhoudt,” Maio added.

Osterhoudt is director of the county’s Planning and Development Services Department, which includes the Code Enforcement Division.

“I never heard back,” Waites told Maio.

“Matt’ll get a hold of you,” Maio replied. Different rules apply to the county’s barrier islands than to the mainland, Maio continued, and different rules apply to single-family housing districts, compared to those for multi-family home districts.

“We’ll get you a copy of [those regulations].”

Waites also told the board that he had asked staff why the county has such strict rules regarding short-term rentals on Siesta Key. The answer he received, he said, was because the island has so many full-time residents. However, that no longer is the situation on the Key, Waites maintained. He asked staff for data to support its assertion, he added, and he was told the data dated to 1996 and no longer was available for review.

“We’ll take care of it,” Chair Detert responded.

Maio reiterated that staff would provide Waites with a copy of the county regulations regarding rental properties.

Then Detert announced that the next speaker must be Waites’ wife: Patricia Waites.

“I hope not,” Chad Waites told Detert. “That’s my mom.”

Patricia Waites read a poem she had written about the short-term rental issue, supporting her son.

One other person who addressed the board that evening on the issue was Lisa McBride, a Realtor with Keller Williams on the Water in Sarasota. She said the property rights of all homeowners should be protected.

Everyone in the area depends on tourism “to keep our economy thriving,” she added. “We support our community on tax dollars,” she continued, noting that she believes investor homeownership often is ignored.

Many people who come to Sarasota County fall in love with the beaches, McBride said, and they want to be able to spend a few weeks a year in the community in property they own. “We’re constantly getting calls from people that would love to invest in our community.”

They also want to “generate a little bit of income to offset the cost of home ownership,” she noted.

Yet, when they learn about the county regulation regarding rentals in single-family zoning districts, McBride said, “A lot of them choose not to purchase here.”

She had talked to a number of local real estate agents, she added, who have experienced such situations with prospective buyers. McBride told the commissioners she believes a compromise is needed.

“We all certainly heard you,” Chair Detert replied. “You gave us some good information. We’ll look into it and hopefully, you’ll notice an improvement.”

During the Reports section of the County Commission’s regular meeting the previous day, Maio told his colleagues, “I am seeing an increased [amount of] email traffic on illegal … short-term rentals” in districts zoned for single-family homes. “It’s the whole Airbnb and the other vacation rental businesses arena that we’re in now,” he added. “[These] inappropriate, illegal rentals are causing heartburn for the people that are contiguous neighbors.”