Vacation home renters could see new rules in Collier County
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Airbnbers and other vacation home owners could see new regulations in Collier County.
No real proposals have been floated, but that could soon change.
Collier County's Tourist Development Council voted nearly unanimously Monday to recommend county staff take a comprehensive look at vacation homes and condos offered for rent in the unincorporated area — and consider the need for stricter rules to govern them.
The vote followed a council discussion about the pros and cons of the rentals at the council's monthly meeting.
The recommended study could include a look at how short-term rentals are affecting the local hotel industry, how many rental owners are paying tourist taxes and how the rentals are affecting neighborhoods, as well as the overall financial impact of the rentals on the county.
County commissioners would have to agree with the tourism advisory board's recommendation before county staff would start doing research or take any other action. A vote by the county commission has yet to be scheduled.
County commissioners receive many complaints
County Commissioner Donna Fiala, who also serves as the Tourist Development Council's chairwoman, said she and other county commissioners have received many letters from residents who are "very upset about their neighborhoods turning into vacation rental spots."
Those residents, she said, complain about the noise and disruption the rentals cause, with visitors often coming and going.
"It's not a good situation," she said.
With all the complaints county commissioners hear about the rentals, Fiala said, she thought they'd agree to the study.
Council member Clark Hill, general manager of the Hilton Naples, said one of his biggest concerns is safety.
"If you're renting a private dwelling and if you don't even have a fire extinguisher and a fire breaks out, people are going to be injured or killed, and it's inevitable, unfortunately," he said. "That's a major risk."
He pointed to a short-term vacation rental ordinance adopted in Flagler County on Florida's east coast that includes safety and security regulations. Hill suggested the owners of the rentals should be licensed in Collier County, like hoteliers.
"As a hotelier I'm not arguing that this is unfair competition, that it's not good for the community in total," he said. "I'm arguing that we need to be very careful about it and that we do need to have some regulations in place."
The study into short-term rentals by county staff should be "all-encompassing," including a look at the tax revenue they generate, Hill said. Besides the sales tax, the owners are required to collect tourist taxes from their guests, although some skirt the law.
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The county collects a 5 percent tax on overnight stays, which pays for tourism marketing and beach projects and supports local museums, attractions and events. A penny hike in the tax took effect last year to build an amateur stadium and sports complex in East Naples.
The cheaper rates offered by some vacation home owners could be hurting the local economy, Hill said. Through Airbnb, he said, owners have advertised rates as low as $66 a night, for example.
"Is that $66 a night taking away from a room that is rented at $266 a night?" Hill asked. "Please don't think this is a self-serving thought. I think we need to look at the math to determine the answer to that."
Collier County markets itself as an upscale destination, and its tourism bureau targets wealthier travelers.
County already has rules for short-term rentals
Victor Rios was the lone member of the Tourist Development Council voting against the recommended study. He said he didn't think new regulations were needed and that the county should just enforce the ones it already has.
"If you have a good noise ordinance and good enforcement of that ordinance, you control 99 percent of the problem," Rios said. "The problem is we don't enforce those. I know that."
Also, owners are already banned from renting their homes for less than six months in most residential areas outside city limits.
However, short-term home rentals abound in the county, advertised on websites such as rentnaples.com, vacationhomerentals.com, vrbo.com and flipkey.com. Code enforcers say they don't actively police the situation.
Several council members argued that more-comprehensive regulation might better control the situation.
Fiala said it was an interesting conversation that needs to be continued.
"You can see it is politically charged in some cases, and in other cases it's just something that is really affecting our whole industry — and we need to think it through carefully," she said. "And I think this is step one getting there."