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Seasonal rentals ordinance narrowly passes

May 9, 2018
By CHUCK BALLARO (news@breezenewspapers.com) , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

By CHUCK BALLARO

news@breezenewspapers.com

Short-term rentals face new regulation on Fort Myers Beach.

Despite opposition from nearly all of those who came to speak during public comment, Town Council voted 3-2 Monday to approve the regulatory ordinance as well as a companion resolution that will set the fees for registration of those rentals.

The ordinance will require owners to register their properties annually.

Those who support the measure say it will finally regulate short-term rentals - what they can and can't do, where they are to be located - and will hold owners and property managers accountable to town standards.

One of the sticking points was whether to include condos in the language. Council member Dennis Boback said most condo associations supported the measure as they believe it would help them enforce their rules.

Council member Bruce Butcher said it would be difficult to make every condo unit register.

"If they do so as an association, I'm okay with that. Making individual units register is a problem," Butcher said.

Mayor Tracey Gore said the ordinance simply echoes an ordinance that has existed since 2003 that required a registry of all rental properties, but was never implemented.

"This is the simplest draft. This is taking something on the books and enforcing it. It's been on the books for 15 years but hasn't been enforced," Gore said.

Vice mayor Joanna Shamp said the town is putting the horse before the wagon, and that if 41 other municipalities are doing this, they have to at least consider it.

Council member Anita Cereceda disagreed. She said she hates being the person who dissents all the time, but is tired of the toxic environment she feels has been creeping into the community.

"This is a level of anxiety that is prevailing and it's dangerous to the community. I feel rained down upon by those who are against me," Cereceda said, who added that by excluding condos, about two-thirds of rentals would be immune.

Cereceda expected a 4-1 vote. However, Boback said he thought that if certain homes had to register, they all should, and joined Cereceda in dissenting.

Advocates and condo owners were not happy with the decision, predicting worse-case scenarios as a long-term result.

"We believe these fees and fines are not required. We believe this is an enforcement issue and that code enforcement can take care of this," said Chris Lopez, public policy director of Royal Palm Coast Realtors. "I think you'll see some investors pull out of the island whether they own homes or living down here."

Amy Lefebvre-Loughrey, owner of Distinctive Property Rentals, said she was disappointed the council did not listen to their side.

"There has been a majority of people speaking out against this. I'm also upset they removed the condos, if I don't get the option to opt out, why should they," Lefebvre-Loughrey said. "I'm afraid this will pit neighbor against neighbor depending on what they decide to do."

Perhaps Jessie Titus best exemplified the residents' frustration over the council decision

"It wasn't putting the cart before the horse, it was a jackass," she hollered as she left.

A companion resolution to adopt fees for registration was a little less eventful, but not much less. There was much discussion on what to charge and how long the registration lasts.

There was also talk regarding what to do in the event of complaints by nearby residents. It was decided that any complaints against rental properties had to have a name and contact information attached to it.

Those whose complaints checked out would have to face a magistrate for repeated violations. Three or more in a calendar year could result in an increase to reregister, and fines could result from failing to register.

It was also suggested that registration be done online, and that the fee would be $100, but $50 if done early, with the possibility for even lower costs if it's discovered the program makes more money than anticipated.

It was the fees that nearly swung the rental decision in the other direction, as Butcher was skeptical. He seemed to like the plan proposed but had some ideas.

"I would like to see multi-year registration. I would encourage the rate of $50 and taking the chance of lowering it or raising it if you must,' Butcher said.

The resolution passed 4-1, with Cereceda again dissenting.

 
 

 

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