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Letters to the Editor, Sept. 4

Marco Eagle
Editorial cartoon

Short-term rentals and code enforcement

I watched with great interest the most recent Marco Island City Council meeting, especially the portion related to noise complaints from neighbors of homes with short term rentals. By way of some background, I am still part owner of a short-term furnished rental business in Chicago and have been for over 30 years. I am very familiar with these issues. I also live next door to a rental house where we had a large three-plus generation family renting for a week with 4-6 cars and trucks parked in the driveway. Luckily, they were only noisy, but no loud, late parties.

At the meeting Capt. Baer mentioned that there were over 300 complaints last year. There were probably more issues that went unreported. If those problems are multiplied by the neighbors on either side and across the canals and streets, these problem tenants are affecting over 1200 other homes! Before the days of VRBO and AirBnB, most island vacation rentals were seasonal, probably mostly three to six months. Most condominiums require a one month minimum. Weekend and nightly rentals were rare. Problems were minimal. Unfortunately, for some, we have a new reality and the City needs to deal with it more aggressively. Some thoughts and suggestions:

When a violation occurs, both the violators and the homeowner should both be issued a citation, with a fine. It may be progressive discipline with a warning, but then progressively higher fines.

The city attorney should direct the magistrate to enforce the fines against both the violators and the homeowner.

Put some teeth in fine collection. If I get a speeding ticket I either have to pay the ticket in advance of a court hearing or show up in court. Why shouldn't these be handled the same way?

I'm guessing most out of town renters simply tear up the tickets. I also suspect most absentee landlords do the same since the laws are rarely enforced and liens rarely filed. Why don't they automatically issue arrest warrants and lien the homeowners for unpaid fines?

Why doesn't the city keep track of unpaid tickets? Most cities even keep track of unpaid parking tickets. The city should also keep track of how many liens exist for unpaid fines.

Since the police department keeps such good records on so many things, how can it not track how many fines, citations, violations were issued in response to complaints?

Obviously, there are both good and bad landlords. Enforcing the law would only affect the bad landlords with bad tenants. I am not suggesting Marco turn into a police state and I recognize property owners have rights, but the thousands of homeowners dealing with these issues have rights too. Weak and inconsistent code enforcement only makes the problem worse. We do not need more laws; we need to enforce the ones we have.

Rick Woodworth, Marco Island

Working to improve quality of life on Marco Island

Complaints about the behavior of renters have increased dramatically in the past few months, maybe in part because Marco Island is increasingly attractive as an escape from grim conditions elsewhere. We on City Council have heard from scores of permanent residents whose peaceful enjoyment of their homes has been compromised or ruined, and these citizens are demanding solutions. I thought it might be helpful to lay out the facts and some options. 

 Most important of all is to note that we do not have the authority to limit the duration or the frequency of single-family home rentals on Marco Island. The state legislature took that right away from local governments in 2011, although cities which had previously enacted restrictions, such as the city of Naples, were allowed to keep them. (Condos are able to regulate pretty much whatever the board wishes to regulate, as are the Hideaway Beach and Key Marco communities.)  

What we can do, however, is to enforce existing regulations involving noise, trash, and parking. Our city manager, police chief, and code enforcement officers have substantially stepped up their attention in these areas. On noise, setting standards is difficult (should we use decibel meters?), but enforcement requires that an officer actually hear what the complaining homeowner hears. On trash, we can write tickets for bins put out early or not retrieved, but then of course we will snare the homeowner who just forgot. On parking, we can – and do – patrol at night and ticket vehicles parked in the swales or blocking sidewalks after 2 a.m., but we have an ordinance which allows this between Nov. 15 and Jan. 15 as an accommodation to family gatherings during the holidays.  

Part of the problem is that the wheels of justice turn slowly. All cases must come before a magistrate, and currently we only have one magistrate for our city. She holds sessions monthly, but several have been canceled because of COVID and most recently the hurricane threat. We have the authority to hire two additional magistrates, which I have advocated.  

Under the leadership of our new assistant city manager, we have reached out to the large rental organizations such as Airbnb to request that they educate owners and renters about the laws on Marco Island. We have encouraged the printing of rules and posting them inside rented homes.  

I am hopeful that the increased efforts will get the job done, but I am prepared to discuss further steps if necessary. I would encourage all our citizens to write or call your city councilors – including those running for election in November – to demand strict enforcement of existing ordinances, even if it is difficult to do so. 

Larry Honig, member, Marco Island City Council