Guest Commentary: Home values under seige

Lets not penact a redundant short-term rental ordinance

Marco Island real estate ownership and values are under siege on many fronts. If there’s any doubt, all one needs to do is to look at the record number of foreclosures which have already taken place.

Unfortunately the number of foreclosures in process due to the staggering number of job losses throughout the nation will likely dwarf the current inventory of foreclosed properties.

Add to the mix the Obama tax plan to eliminate the mortgage interest and real estate tax deductions on first and second homes for households having incomes in excess of $250,000. Such a change will dramatically lower real estate values on Marco Island (and elsewhere).

To complete the perfect storm factor in the negative impact the short-term rental ordinance currently being evaluated by the Planning Board at its March 13 meeting will have on the local real estate market and on the Marco Island economy as a whole.

I have in previous letters outlined how making the ability to rent any home or condo for six months or less subject to the sole discretion of the city will create uncertainty for purchasers who must count on rental income to afford their purchase. Such uncertainty will cause them to withdraw from the Marco Island real estate market altogether. I have also pointed out how any system requiring a drawn out inspection/approval process will impose added cost and delay on an owner’s ability to rent and that will negatively impact the local economy.

It is therefore appropriate, especially in the current desperate economy, to seriously question whether there is a genuine need for additional regulation that will, at best, add delay and expense and, at worst, strangle the real estate sale and rental markets on Marco Island.

The genesis of the current legislative effort was an outgrowth of about a half dozen “problem landlords” renting single family homes in residential neighborhoods to some unruly/disrespectful tenants who occupied the premises for one to two weeks at a time. During these short-term stays many of these tenants violated noise, parking and trash disposal ordinances that apply equally to all property owners on Marco Island whether they occupy the premises themselves or rent them to a third party.

The Eagle has previously reported that some of the surrounding neighbors became so frustrated by the frequency of the violations by one short-term tenant after another that they simply stopped calling the police to obtain relief.

Since many of the disturbances handled by police were occurring outside the normal office hours of Code Enforcement personnel, Code Enforcement did not become aware of those incidents where the police responded and resolved the problem before the officer left the scene. As a result, each such incident was treated as a single occurrence with the tenant in question and Code Enforcement did not pursue any follow-up enforcement action against the “problem landlord” under that portion of the ordinances holding the property owner accountable for repeat violations within a limited period of time.

It was not until the summer of 2008 that frustrated neighbors who had served on the rental advisory committee learned that Marco Island police did not routinely make reports of nuisance violations to Code Enforcement, but simply entered them into its own computer system. As a result there had for years been no basis for Code Enforcement personnel to follow-up against the “problem landlords” for repeat violations. Police Chief Carr is quoted: “ … if you give us direction on what you want us to do, we’ll do it.” Recognition of this very significant communication gap between police and Code Enforcement personnel has resulted in a critical change in policy whereby all police reports of code violations are now forwarded to Code Enforcement.

That in turn has led to at least one “problem landlord” being brought before the Code Enforcement Board and ordered to pay a $750 administrative fee, along with the caveat that if the property is brought before the board again for noise, trash or parking violations, it will be treated as a repeat offense against the owner regardless of whether the violation was performed by a renter or visitor. According to the August 15, 2008 Eagle, this Code Enforcement action directly against the property owner began addressing violations of the type which had been ongoing at the property for at least four years.

Code Enforcement has confirmed that other rental violation actions have been successfully prosecuted directly against landlords before the Code Enforcement Board and that still other complaints are undergoing review for possible prosecution against landlords, all within the framework of existing Marco Island ordinances applicable to all property owners.

The inescapable conclusion is that Marco Island police and Code Enforcement already have the necessary tools to hold “problem landlords” accountable for the repeated violations of their tenants, and they have recently begun to use them.

The Planning Board is urged to give the current system of ordinances a chance to work as it was originally intended before building another unnecessary and redundant regulatory bureaucracy dedicated exclusively to rental property owners at the expense of all responsible home and condo owners.

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