Who’s right? Who’s wrong? Two sides of the short-term rental debate

Andrea Stetson
This is the home on Marco Island that is owned by James and Ann Mardis. They spend 3-4 months at this home and rent it the rest of the year.

The future of short-term vacation rentals is a heated debate on Marco Island. On Aug. 23, voters will be asked to approve or deny a proposed ordinance to register any home that is rented for less than 30 days at a time or for more than three times during the year.

More:A community divided as short-term rental vote nears

It’s not the registration that has opponents concerned, it’s all the regulations that go into it. Concerns include getting all 2,000-plus vacation rentals inspected, the stricter noise ordinance, sleeping, parking rules and more. Opponents say it will mean the end of vacation rentals and the money it brings to the island. Proponents say it is needed to stop the unregulated parking, noise, trash and number of people cramming into homes and destroying the peaceful neighborhoods they live in.

While each side spews it’s take on the rules, the statistics and the affects, we set out to put a face on the issue. Here’s a look at the people affected by the proposed ordinance.

Taming the rentals shrew

Ed Issler has lived on Marco Island for 24 years. He enjoys his quiet seaside community while also considering himself an activist that fights for what he believes will make the island a better place. Now he is leading the fight to regulate short-term vacation rentals.

“People came down here and have the expectation that they can come here and have the peaceful life,” Issler began. “During COVID it got so crowded with people from the east coast. All the people came over here because they closed the beaches on the east coast of Florida. What happened all of the sudden, the house rentals went bonkers.”

Issler said he saw the rapid transformation of many homes into vacation rentals. The hot real estate market prompted numerous people to sell their homes and the buyers were investors that turned these single-family houses into short-term rentals. With Airbnb and Vrbo becoming more popular, the business was booming.

More:Unexpected opposition to tree proposal

“So, Marco just got inundated with all these kids wanting to come over and party,” Issler described. “So, all of a sudden all the rentals found themselves with a big payday and there are no regulations that are in existence for the short-term rentals. So, people would be sitting in their home wanting peace and quiet, and you would have the drunks and people peeing on the lawn and it became a problem. There are a lot of people that have sold and left.”

Issler said it is not uncommon for a family to rent for a few days and then, to help pay the high cost, invite other families to join them. What was meant to be a family of four renting for a long weekend becomes 16 people from multiple families packing into the house.

“You have a three-bedroom house with 20 people in it and then they would all go to the beach and party on the beach and so the residents got a little upset,” Issler described.

Taking up the fight

Issler said so many people asked him for help with this problem that he sprang into action.

“The people came to me because I have done it before,” he explained as he related how he helped keep recreational marijuana from being legal on Marco. “I have been involved in the politics of Marco for 22 of the 24 years I have been here. I took it upon myself and we got a political action committee together. We very easily got the signatures.”

Ed Issler speaks at a recent Marco City Council meeting about why he wants voters to support the proposed ordinance to regulate short term vacation rentals.

He needed 1,300 signatures to get the petition on the ballot and got 2,000 people to sign. Issler said he can prove that island residents are deeply concerned about vacation rentals.

“The city of Marco Island did a survey about two months ago and they had 3,600 responses and 88 percent of the responses listed short term rentals as the number one problem on Marco Island,” he explained. “Some people will say this is overkill for just a few bad apples. But it is the number one problem on Marco when 3,200 of the 3,600 said the biggest problem is short-term rentals.”

Issler admits he does not live near a short-term rental. But he’s heard of numerous complaints.

“You got cars parked, not just in the driveway, but in swales and on vacant lots in the neighborhood,” he described. “You got excessive amounts of trash that don’t fit into the containers that are provided by the home. and you’ve got noise, and so trash parking and noise are the main factors.”

More:Temporary lane closures during city manhole rehabilitation project

Many residents that do live near these rentals don’t want their names revealed because they say they already get harassed for complaining about their rental neighbors. For example, one Marco man lives across a narrow canal from a year-round vacation rental and said there are constant parties at 2 a.m. He hears people jumping off the roof into the pool, loud music and lots of yelling throughout the night. He also sees trash spilling out of garbage cans from the 20-plus people that typically rent the large home.

Issler also fears the demographics are changing the overall lifestyle on Marco Island. As landlords keep selling their houses, local workers such as teachers, firefighters and other essential workers are being forced to leave the island as the homes they rented are being turned into vacation houses.

“We have 8,000 single family homes on Marco and over 2,000 are being used as short-term rentals,” Issler said. “Congregations are dwindling because renters don’t typically go to church. And the schools have fewer children. People won’t live on Marco Island if they know that there is a short-term rental in the neighborhood. Legally realtors are obligated to divulge that. It’s affecting our community. If we bring these rentals under control, then the hope is that people that will once again be happy in their neighborhoods, and when a home comes up for sale then somebody who is going to live here will buy it.”

Issler says he is not against short-term rentals and he doesn’t want to make it impossible for people to rent their homes.

“We are going to be realistic,” he said.

He knows that there won’t be inspectors in place the day after election day to quickly register 2,000 rentals. He isn’t expecting people to be forced to stop renting that day as they wait for inspections.

More:‘Watts for Dinner’: East Naples food truck serves up pupusas and more!

More:‘Watts for Dinner’: Fin to hoof – Bistro keeps it fresh

“We are going to come up with an implantation plan,” he stressed. “We are not going to make them do something that is not practical and feasible. We will look at how long it is going to take to perform these things.”

Issler also doesn’t expect neighbors to call code enforcement if they hear children playing in a pool in the middle of the afternoon.

“It’s not designed for daytime,” he said about the noise rules in the ordinance. “It’s for at night. That’s the real issue. I don’t know that there’s ever been a noise problem during the day.”

Issler said the regulations will make vacation rentals safer by ensuring they have items such as working smoke detectors and a clean pool. He said right now short-term vacation rentals are not regulated at all and there needs to be some rules in place to protect both the renters and the residents.

“That survey shows that it is not a small problem,” Issler concluded. “So, we will leave it up to the voters.”

This is the home on Marco Island that is owned by James and Ann Mardis. They spend 3-4 months at this home and rent it the rest of the year.

Unnecessary overreach

James and Ann Mardis enjoy spending three or four months a year in their Marco Island home. The rest of the year they rent the house while they live in New Hampshire. They’ve been doing this for 22 years without complaints from neighbors. Renting their home gives them the funds to pay their insurance, taxes and other house expenses. They say it makes sense to rent it all those months they are not there. Now the couple fears the rentals might come to an end.

James Mardis is hoping the ordinance does not go into effect because he fears it would make it impossible to rent his home. He says he will sell his Marco house if the ordinance passes.

“I don’t have a problem with registration,” James Mardis explained. “It is just that this bill brings along with it so many restrictions. They are very stringent regulations and some are unattainable and they know it.”

The biggest hurdle he fears is waiting for someone from the city to inspect the home so he can get it certified under the new proposed ordinance.

More:Cheap Eats: Cracker Barrel – Not perfect or pretentious. Just delicious.

More:Hey Marco Island, looking for a place to eat?

“You are not supposed to take any bookings until the inspection has been completed, so if this passes rentals will come to a full and complete stop,” Mardis described. “Unless the city is prepared to have inspectors there that day at all 2,000 rentals, legally you will not be able to rent your home unless you want to break the law, which I feel a lot of people will be doing. A lot of people will be saying ‘this is totally unreasonable’ and when it gets to court, they will see it is totally unreasonable.”

Mardis says if the rule passes, he may leave Marco Island for good.

“We definitely would sell,” Mardis stressed. “It would not make sense using the home 3-4 months of the year and leaving it emptying the rest of the year. We would buy a home somewhere else in Southwest Florida that was more friendly to guests. Most places that I know of would have reasonable regulations.”

Renters have expectations too

The homeowner doesn’t understand why people think vacation rentals are a problem in the island. He says they are better taken care of than many other non-rentals. He hired a property manager to take care of his home.

“The property is perfect because when a guest checks out it is checked and cleaned,” he described. “If we were not renting it would not be checked and cleaned on a weekly basis. If we did not have to meet guest’s expectations on a weekly basis then we might not be so concerned that each bush is perfect. This is the truth; people don’t understand that. Our home is always perfection because we rent it out on a weekly basis where our guests expect perfection. Presentation must be perfect if you are going to have success with your vacation rental home.”

Mardis typically rents to vacationers from England and Germany in the summer. He says they are families that take good care of the house. So do renters from around the United States and Florida that stay there throughout the year.

“We have a lot of money invested in our home, so if we thought our home would be beat up, we would not rent it,” Mardis explained.

There is also a concern about the strict noise ordinance that states no sound can be heard 25 feet from the property from 10 p.m. to 7 a.m. or 50 feet from 7 a.m. and 10 p.m.

More:29th Annual Marco Island Christmas House and Business Decorating Contest planned

“If I had my grandkids playing in the pool, my neighbors, they don’t know my grandkids, so they could technically call the cops and they would show up and I would say they are my grandchildren and they would say ok that’s fine,” Mardis related. “It is ludicrous the way it has been written. Noise only applies to vacation guests. It does not apply to residents and other people who live on the island.”

In the 22 years that Mardis has been renting, he saw only one complaint where authorities were called.

“The officer apologized to the guests because he felt their country music was at a reasonable level and the neighbor’s dog was nosier than the music,” Mardis said. “That officer had to take the time to go over to the house. Just another example of the waste of the officer’s time. I am sure there are bigger issues out there in the world.”

If the ordinance passes and Mardis and others sell their homes, those left on the island might have a worse situation, Mardis stated.

“The nice thing about rentals is if you have somebody that does not play by the rules, they are gone in a week,” he said. “Whereas if you have a year-round family that decides not to play by the rules, they are there forever.”

Mardis hopes people will read all the rules and look at all the repercussions the ordinance could have and then vote no on Aug. 23.