Rental properties and noise complaints; City Council agrees to wait and see

Lance Shearer
Correspondent
Resident Ed Issler speaks concerning rental properties and problematic noise. Marco Island’s City Council met on Monday in the council chambers.

As it always does, the issue of vacation rentals and the noise complaints they sometimes generate was a hot-button topic for Monday’s City Council meeting. Councilors heard a presentation from Casey Lucius, assistant to the city manager, laying out how many noise violations had been reported.

In a six-month review of MIPD records, Lucius indicated that with 2,931 registered rental units on the island, there had been a total of 374 noise complaints, and 99 of those had been verified by the police. All those complaints were referencing noise from just 74 rental units. 

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Each incident, she added, affects not just the neighbor who complains, but from four to nine adjacent residents. In the last three months, there have been 7,000 visitors to the page on the city website discussing rental properties. Nine properties were reported as not being properly registered, and as repeat violators.

City Council Chairman Jared Grifoni, center, makes a proclamation declaring May 22 - 28 National Safe Boating Week on Marco Island, surrounded by responsible boaters including Wanda Day and Gene Burson.

The recommendation of city staff was that the city continue with their policy of ‘communicate, educate, enforce’ through the summer months, and wait until after the results came in from that additional experience before taking new governmental action. The council adopted the recommendation by la 7–0 vote, but there was a good deal of back and forth before getting to that point. 

The majority of the members of the public who were in attendance were there for the rental property discussion, witnessed by the room largely emptying out after the council’s vote, although with the chairs widely spaced for social distancing, it was nothing like previous large and animated crowds.

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Chairman Jared Grifoni indicated at the end of the meeting the council will return to a full complement of chairs for the audience, as well as ending the “breaking news”-style crawl for a remote call-in number for those who wish to comment, but don’t want to appear in the room, or are out of town. The phone number – 239-294-7880 – will remain active.

Grifoni and councilors Rich Blonna and Becky Irwin seemed to indicate the noise problem is not as acute as it has been in the past. 

“Less than one percent of the island is experiencing noise complaints,” said Blonna, who came around the dais to present a sheet of findings. 

Councilor Rich Blonna speaks on the question of rental properties and problematic noise. Marco Island’s City Council met on Monday in the council chambers.

“I haven’t heard much of anything about this problem this year,” said Grifoni, comparing Mother's Day weekend complaints. Irwin presented a complicated mathematics lesson making a similar point. 

“Out of 138,000 opportunities for violations, they did so 99 times. That’s infinitesimal. We do a great job with vacation rentals on Marco Island,” she said. “For the vast majority, it’s working like a model for the United States.”

Others took a different view. According to the way the city’s land development code was written, said Councilor Joe Rola, “anything not allowed is prohibited,” so by that logic any rentals would not be legal. City Attorney Alan Gabriel took exception.

“Do you mean a one year rental is not allowed?” he asked. He said the city could be the subject of lawsuits for taking away property owners’ legitimate rights. 

“This whole thing is driving our residents crazy. I think it’s time we resolved this, Let’s find out once and for all,” said Rola. Grifoni, an attorney, called his approach “lawyer shopping” – going from one to another “till we find the opinion we like best. I don’t think that will resolve it.”

Members of the public were virtually unanimous in wanting stricter noise constraints on rentals. Former city councilor Howard Reed made the point that the crime of arson affects directly only a very small percentage of the population, but that doesn’t mean it’s not a problem. “We need to take this seriously,” he said. 

Representatives of Citizens for Better Marco also spoke up against rentals, waving a copy of the Declaration of Independence and Constitution and pointing out the requirement of government is to protect their citizens. Linda Gosling said the problem essentially did not exist “before Air B&B.”

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Resident Ed Issler recommended sound monitors made by NoiseAware.com, which monitor noise levels in a home, and provided councilors with relevant ordinances from other Florida jurisdictions including Daytona Beach, Miami and Fort Lauderdale. 

Priscilla McDonald, calling in by phone, said, “I’m all for rentals. I have friends who rent, and they really need the income.”

In the end, though, the councilors kicked the can down the road, opting to continue to communicate, educate and enforce – through the MIPD, and revisit the issue again after September.