Vacay rental rules: Has it made Marco a war zone of noise complaints?

Andrea Stetson
He is cursing and swearing at something or someone by yelling and screaming out loud. He is very pissed off.

Police are being called to homes where children are swimming or adults are talking and laughing. They are forced to check out toddler birthday parties and luncheons held by senior citizens. Some homeowners are blowing air horns and blasting music at vacationers.

Has Marco Island become a war zone of noise complaints?

This month, resident Martin Winter played two videos in front of the Marco City Council to visually demonstrate the problem. One video depicts very loud music. The other  depicts someone yelling mean words. Both noises came from a homeowner who was using these tactics to annoy a family vacationing in Winter’s short-term rental home.

An ordinance that was voted on in August and approved by City Council in December, requires single family home rental properties used for less than 30 days at a time to be registered with the city and conform to a series of stringent regulations. One of the regulations stipulates that no noise can be heard within 50 feet of a vacation rental during the day and 25 feet at night. Winter said that has led to ridiculous complaints.

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“Last month a family of four, repeat visitors to this island from California who love Marco, had the police knock on the door not once, but twice because their kids were laughing in the pool at two o’clock in the afternoon,” Winter said. “Children laughing in a pool is not a crime. What happened next is shocking. The full-time resident who falsely called the police started blowing air horns at the family who were only trying to enjoy some sacred family time.”

That was not his only story of neighbor complaints. Police were called another time for a noise complaint of people playing in the pool.

“I have had a family from Europe that had a child that was on the (autism) spectrum,” Winter described. “The police came on the property, and she was so upset that she was in tears because she thought her parents would be taken away. This has to stop.”

Vacationers are now posting on Facebook about their experiences on Marco Island. Christina Theofilos of California wrote, “We have been going to Marco for years and this year we took our kids, and at 2 p.m. the neighbors were blowing air horns at us telling us to be quiet.”

Sonya Brown wrote, “She called the cops because me and my husband were talking on the deck. The cops even felt bad when they came because I guess it’s normal with her. The reviews on the house said she called the cops on others, but I thought as long as we weren’t loud, we would be ok. That was absolutely not the case.

Lori Perrone, another homeowner who rents to vacationers, had many stories of cop calls.

One happened during a birthday party for a three-year-old.

“They had the grandmother and grandfather and aunt and uncle and parents and  a few small children and they were just having a nice birthday party,” she described. “It was three in the afternoon. “They were having a Mickey Mouse birthday party for the child. It was just a birthday party and someone called the cops on them. These people are having a party with little kids and they (cops) want to come in with guns on their waistband. It would scare the kids. There is no reason. This is three in the afternoon, so there in no reason to send officers to a home on Marco Island that is being occupied by family and children.”

Another time a 65-year-old was having a birthday brunch at 11 a.m. when cops knocked on the door. Someone had complained that one of the guest’s cars was parked over the curb area by the driveway.

“They interrupted a 65-year-old at an 11 a.m. brunch for her birthday, like these people are some kind of criminals,” Perrone said.

Marco police are required to check out any noise complaint, even if it is for a child’s birthday party, a senior citizen’s brunch or children playing in a pool. But since the ordinance is not fully in effect, Marco police cannot enforce the noise requirement in the ordinance.

“We are still going out to investigate to see if it is in violation of the current ordinances,” said Captain Rich Stoltenborg. “They are still giving people time for people to register their vacation homes. Right now, we just follow the current ordinance.”

During a City Council meeting last year, police chief Tracy Frazzano said the vacation rental noise ordinance conflicts with the city’s noise control ordinance because instead of relying on calibrated noise meters, it would rely on witness accounts. The chief also said the ordinance would encompass dogs barking, babies crying, kids playing in a pool and even people talking. Under the city’s noise ordinance these are justifiable sounds during daytime hours.

Councilman Jared Grifoni, stresses that the blame cannot be placed on the Marco Police Department. They are just doing their job, by responding to noise complaints.  He puts the blame on the people making these complaints. Grifoni is calling for a rule that would penalize people who make false complaints and waste police resources.

“How can anyone call in a complaint on a child’s birthday party in the middle of the afternoon? Grifoni questioned. “If someone has a party at two in the morning and is blasting music absolutely you need to call, but this is not about that. This is about silencing Marco Island. Nobody whether you are a visitor or a resident should be afraid to go outside. It is absolutely disgusting. It demonstrates the worst of people that will target families, people with children or anybody who is outside having a conversation even at a reasonable level. It is a flawed ordinance designed to be weaponized against people trying to live their lives and that is not right. It is one of the major issues that this ordinance has, and it has to be addressed.”