MARCO ISLAND — Drawing the line on property rights has been no easy task on Marco Island. About 35 Island rental homes have caused a preponderance of nuisances in residential neighborhoods and City Council decided Monday evening that it was finally time to quash the problem.
While commentary on the issue has often included statements regarding only a couple homes being a problem, code enforcement documentation indicates about 35 short term rentals, those which rent for six months or less, have been repeatedly found in violation of city codes, Eric Wardle reported to the Planning Board in May.
“I’m in the south end, by the beach. If you don’t live on our end of the Island, you don’t know what this is ... Do something now, get something going or you’re going to see the dignity of this Island go down fast and real estate values will go down ... It’s the frequency, and the people who leave couldn’t care less what they leave behind,” said homeowner Frank DeGaetano.
Community Development Director Steve Olmsted said his interpretation of the land development code is that short term rentals in residential neighborhoods are not currently permitted because the properties operate as businesses that alter the make-up of the single family residential zone. “It’s just my opinion. It’s up to interpretation.”
Fire Chief Mike Murphy put it more strongly Monday. He said he was concerned about the life safety issues of resort rentals not being inspected and not adhering to standards necessary of structures, such as hotels.
“Zoning law does not allow this type of business to be in a single family neighborhood.... As I read it, you can’t run a business in a single family home unless you’re by mail and phone-order only or you only rent one room or you rent for over six months.”
Murphy said though fire inspections need to be done, he’s put in a bad position to inspect these types of properties under current city and state regulations.
“By inspecting, now I’m authorizing them to conduct a business in a place not allowed in the code.”
Murphy supported an ordinance because he said it’s necessary to protect the owners, renters, taxpayers and adjacent properties.
Police Chief Thom Carr said he agreed with the aspect of the ordinance that held owners responsible, but disagreed with the approach.
“I don’t like it. It’s too restrictive. I think there’s stuff on the books that can solve this, but you have to go after the people causing the problems. Not everyone is causing problems. We have a mechanism to go after them. The initial (complaint) we’ll take care of. If it continues to happen, which is what your problem is, we have to go after the owner or caretaker. It sounds like you’re going beyond that, but that’s my opinion.”
The city could enforce their land development code on properties with numerous complaints and under Florida Statute 823.05, a nuisance is described as a place which “tends to annoy the community” and is a second degree misdemeanor.
Realtor George Percel said one challenge in the ordinance is that it can be difficult to decipher a group of renters from a group of family visitors.
After two years of hearing a slew of opinions on the issue, council denied the draft ordinance presented to them Monday evening, which would have permitted, as a right, short term rentals as frequent as one rental every seven days, in single family residential areas.
Instead council directed Olmsted to work with city attorneys to draft a similar ordinance but one which would make short term rentals permissible by a conditional right. The differentiation between conditional use and permitted use is primarily the ability for the city to revoke the permit if needed.
The Planning Board had stopped mid-way in discussing a conditional use ordinance, which would include the necessity for city staff to notify adjacent homeowners and would include subjectivity of approval by the Community Development Director.
DeGaetano said generally he agreed with not taking away rights, but he saw the issue as more complex than homeowners having the right to rent.
“I have a real estate license, but I’m a citizen of Marco first. I love this place and I don’t want to see it deteriorate.”
He said a property near his home has caused a nasty mess of 18 trash bags left outside, nine or more cars parked in the swales overnight and other nuisances.
Councilman Ted Forcht recommended a trial period for an ordinance and said some “old southern sheriff logic” of pursuing other violations on properties and people that are problems might help as well.
Among the unresolved issues are the cost to apply for a short term rental permits and whether council will agree to keep current occupancy limits of two people per bedroom plus two more or become more restrictive.
Chairman Rob Popoff suggested perhaps a 10 person maximum was appropriate and planning board members had voiced similar ideas during their review of the issue.
Particulars of the regulation thus far include the requirement of an owner or rental agent to be available 24 hours per day, to give the code enforcement board the right to suspend or revoke a short term resort rental permit in single family neighborhoods if a property violates the ordinance more than three times in two years and a requirement to pass fire and building inspections every two years. Also a posting of regulations in a conspicuous place inside the rental home is to be required.
Council did not set a date, but a conditional use resort rental ordinance is expected to come back before council in an upcoming meeting without having to go back before the Planning Board.