A community divided as short-term rental vote nears

Andrea Stetson
Short-term rentals will be on the ballot in August.

Accusations of spreading false information, scary stories about projected skyrocketing costs to taxpayers and the threat of lawsuits were laid out before Marco Island City Council for more than an hour Monday evening, as residents spoke on the hot topic of vacation rentals.

The fight has been heating up ever since the council added the proposed ordinance to the Aug. 23 ballot. When a petition for the suggested rule got enough signatures, council voted to put it on the ballot. The proposed ordinance would require vacation rentals, defined as any property rented for fewer than 30 days, more than three times a year, to register with the city and adhere to new regulations such as a stricter noise ordinance, fire and city inspections, parking rules, sleeping requirements and more. Now people on both sides are fighting for votes.

More:Letters to the Editor, July 19

More:Letters to the Editor, July 15

More:Letters to the Editor, July 12

Lori Reinalda fears the rule is unreasonable for families with children.

“One example of the unreasonable items: noise,” Reinalda began. “I have six grandkids. They love to visit and play outside by the pool. There is already a noise ordinance for both homeowners and renters. This referendum is exposing a much greater noise ordinance for vacation rentals. The words: any sound 25 feet from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. or 50 feet from 7 a.m. and 10 p.m. gives any unreasonable neighbor a reason to complain about any noise. Does that mean my grandchildren can play outside in the pool, but my vacation renters cannot? This bill is not a reasonable or simple registration bill. Obviously, this proposal is a scam with a hidden agenda.”

Elaine Rigas agrees the bill is not family friendly.

“I find this anti-family, outlawing children over the age of 13 from sleeping on a sleeper sofa or couch,” she began. “The ordinance will discriminate against children and families. Do they have to ask for birth certificates? If someone suspects that someone is not the appropriate age, a neighbor could call in. What kind of people want to turn Marco Island into this police state? This is unwelcoming. This is not my vision of Marco Island.”

Kathy Dennis says there is no city plan for timely inspections if the bill passes.

More:Marco Island residents express frustrations over short-term rentals

“If this passes no new bookings as of Aug. 24,” she spewed. “No new staff has been hired. There are 2,000 homes that have to be inspected and not enough staff. This could take a year or more for the city to perform these inspections. Would this prevent 2,000 vacation homes from making new bookings while they wait for inspections? If you don’t want your tax bill to triple, vote no.”

Cathy Ahem echoed that adding that two city inspections and two fire inspections each year would mean hiring more staff.

“Two inspections per year is 4,000 inspections, that is not feasible,” she said.

Vice-Chair Jared Grifoni, agrees with all these concerns and predicts a future with costly lawsuits. He says the city attorney has already found 19 legal deficiencies.

“In the ordinance you cannot rent until you have gone through this program and have a certificate of transient compliance,” Grifoni explained. “So, the issue is that none of that is going to be ready once the referendum passes, assuming it does. We don’t have the staff. Right now it’s tremendously difficult to get someone in the door in any division, and we are expected to have to hire a dozen or more city employees and get it up and running before any of these people can exercise these property rights. That’s wrong.”

Short-term rentals will be on the ballot in August.

That is just the beginning.

“Do we have the staff to do it and is that the society we want to live in – to call on kids splashing in the pool at two in the afternoon? he questioned speaking of the noise ordinance. “Are we going to expect Marco Island police to go in and demand the proof of age of a child sleeping on a sofa? I feel terribly for the people. It is restricting rentals until they become unfeasible to exist. They want to ban rentals and this is the first step to ban rentals, and the taxpayers are going to be on the hook for all this litigation. It is unfortunate and a waste of taxpayer dollars.”

More:City Council election candidate qualifying period

Mark Morze focused his argument on the cost to taxpayers when he addressed city leaders. He projected two homes valued at about $970,000 and showed a tax bill for a homesteaded resident at $6,738 tax and the vacation rental, that is not homesteaded, at $10,271. He believes rental owners will sell and if the rentals became homesteaded houses, taxes collected would be severely reduced. He also fears that vacation rental owners will protest on the grounds of property rights.

“There will be lawsuits filed and the city will have to pay hundreds of thousands in taxpayer money to defend itself,” he explained. “This backdoor attempt to ban vacation rentals in single family homes through an owner’s 17-page petition has simply gone too far.”

Karen-Lynn Twyning said there are already noise ordinances, parking, trash and insurance rules and fines in place for violators.

“So why propose new ones?” she questioned.

Each side also accused the other of spreading false information.

A community divided as short-term rental vote nears

Sarah Yanezs Vazquez began by projecting a flyer that is being circulated by those in favor of the rule. The flyer shows a photo of a home packed with vehicles all over the lawn and the headline: “Marco is at Risk. You Must Vote Yes. Unregistered short-term rentals means noise, parking and trash violations, inability to enjoy our peaceful neighborhood, destroys the stability of our community, traffic and beach congestion.”

“This is not a vacation rental,” Vazquez stressed as she pointed to the photo. “It has never been a vacation rental. It is a resident that has lived here for 26 years. This is the picture they are trying to paint about vacation homes. This is clearly a persuasion to paint a picture that is not true to the voters of Marco Island, and I just want everybody to know the truth.”

More:Details released for August celebration to mark city’s anniversary

Hayden Blois counters by projecting his own finds of misinformation. He shows an ad from those opposing the rule that says the rule will limit the number of guests in a person’s home, which is not true since the rule only applies to vacation rentals.

“They are mistruths,” Blois stated.

Ed Issler spoke for a full eight minutes of the importance of the new ordinance. He stressed that this only applies to short-term rentals and says people are confused about the measure and making it sound a lot worse than it really is.

“Anyone who lives on Marco can have as many people as they want stay at their home. This is specifically for short term rental ordinances,” he stressed.

Opponents all wore stickers stating “Stop the Scam, Save Your Home Vote No.” They are part of a new campaign launched this week by Marco Island homeowners and businesspeople called Keep Marco Free. They state, “The referendum asks voters to approve a 17-page local ordinance that will devastate the local economy, create several new government agencies, raise taxes and impose dozens of new rules that will strip property owners of their rights.”

The group is now starting a vigorous campaign to warn Marco Island residents and businesses about the referendum. Members say the goal is to educate the public on vacation rentals and tourism and Marco and protect homeowner rights.

James Mardis is a member of this new group. He is a part time resident that rents his house when he’s not in town and says economically that’s what most renters do to offset costs and it has never been a problem in the past.

“I have been renting my home for 22 years and I had one complaint in 22 years. And when the police showed up and talked to the guests, the neighbor’s dog was louder than the guests,” he said.

Grifoni concurs that noise is not a problem on Marco.

“Where’s the problem? he questioned. “We’ve had 10 verified noise complaints this year (not necessarily renters). If someone is partying at two in the morning, that is addressed and police take care of that.”