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Shorting out on short term rentals

April 12, 2017
Jessica Salmond - News Editor (jsalmond@breezenewspapers.com) , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

Short term rentals are legal, but can present an enforcement challenge for code compliance.

But on Fort Myers Beach, it's a matter of following the code of conduct.

"We have a code of conduct and it is not being followed," said Vice Mayor Tracey Gore.

She lives on Primo Drive and has had first-hand experience with vacation renters causing a ruckus.

Short-term rentals are allowed in designated areas on Fort Myers Beach; there are different spots for weekly and monthly rentals. Vacation homes are supposed to post the town's code of conduct within the house, and the owners or renters are supposed to have the renters sign a copy of the code to signify they have read them.

Gore and other neighbors have witnessed trespassing, loud parties after the 10 p.m. quiet time, and other disrespectful behavior.

Fact Box

A long-term trend toward short-term stays?

A plethora of short term rentals could be indicative of a larger trend - a street's metamorphosis from a neighborhood of year-round and seasonal residents to a vacation rental hotspot. Resident David Ennis said during his public comment that homes for sale on his street are often bought by investors who flip the home into a vacation rental - often, a short-term rental is far more profitable than an annual one. A quick search on VRBO.com, a popular home vacation rental website, shows nine homes for rent just on Primo Drive ranging from $88 to $429 per night. The streets around it are also dotted with similar quantities of available rentals.

Stacking up

How do other communities deal with short term rental issues?

Bonita Springs: According to Chris Campbell, Neighborhood Services Supervisor, Bonita Springs does not have any regulations specific to short-term rentals - so the city isn't really experiencing any issues with violations. Bonita Springs treats all rentals the same way, Campbell said, whether it's a weekly, monthly or yearly rental. The landlord or owner must get a permit for the rental, and other city regulations such as noise ordinances or occupancy levels are the same as any other residential structure. Marco Island: the City of Marco Island does not have any ordinances specifically regulating a short term rental, said Capt. Dave Baer of the Marco Island Police Department. In 2015, the city council attempted to pass an ordinance which would have required rental properties to enter into a registry, as a way to track repeat-violation properties, but the ordinance failed to pass. Rentals are still subject to follow universal city ordinances, such as noise, parking and trash pick-up.

"We're cognizant and aware that people who live next to rentals, that those associate with more complaints," Baer said

"It's an island-wide problem," she said.

Dave Ennis, another Primo Drive resident, spoke at the April 3 meeting in public comment to express his frustration with the problem, especially about the number of people renting out individual single-family homes.

With property values increasing, Fort Myers Beach's lots are being bought up for investment properties.

"We're losing our neighborhood," he said.

But catching short-term rental violations can be a full time job.

Kara Stewart, Community Development Director, said the town is currently complaint-driven in regards to short term rentals; the code enforcement officers get a complaint about a short term rental and usually investigate it on rental advertising sites like VRBO.com to see if the rental is advertising illegally.

Weekly rentals can only rent to one family in a seven-day period. Monthly rentals can only rent to one family in a calendar month.

Another issue is a lack of connectivity between the town, fire department and sheriff's office with complaints and records. Rentals are supposed to register with the Fort Myers Beach Fire Control District for inspections. Often, the Lee County Sheriff's Office is called to disruptive rental homes to quiet down visitors or break up disputes. However, none of this information is relayed back to the town.

Gore would like to see a quick and easy way for residents to log complaints about vacation rentals on the town's website to create a file on what rentals are violating standards. She envisions some kind of button right on the home page. Currently, residents can email in a complaint, but they have to navigate through the website to do so.

Stewart said the Local Planning Agency has been discussing some kind of connection into the fire department's program, but with the roadblock of the town not having the authority to demand entry into a home in violation. If it was the will of the council to put a bigger focus on short term rentals, Stewart said the code enforcement team might need outside help.

"Code Enforcement has not been spending an inordinate amount of time on this," she said. "It's a matter of resources. If you want to spend more time on it, we can talk about, but I don't believe we would have enough staff to do that and other things."

But, the council hired another code enforcement officer last fall and short term rental enforcement was one of the motivating factors in allocating $43,000 of the town's tight budget for another employee. Gore said then, and now, she would like to see one of the two dedicate more time toward making sure these rentals stay in line with both the code of conduct and the legal limit on stays.

"We hired another one because we want to be proactive," she said. "It's constant. This group leaves and the next ones come in. The behavior of people coming here is getting worse."

 
 

 

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