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Council wants short-term rental owners to register

May 24, 2017
Jessica Salmond - News Editor (jsalmond@breezenewspapers.com) , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

According to the Fort Myers Beach Land Development Code, new short term rental owners are supposed to register with the town.

It's a rule that's been in the books since 2003.

But upon research, Community Development Director Kara Stewart found that the registry had never happened.

"I can't find any records of that ever being implemented," Stewart said at the Town Council's May 16 workshop.

Stewart does have a list of the 26 rentals who were grandfathered in when the ordinance was passed; they have to provide tax returns to prove their rental units, and the information gets updated yearly.

But Town Council wants staff to become dedicated to tracking down short term renters - for a number of reasons.

Many streets used to be filled with full-time residents. However, that's been changing as people sell their properties or flip homes to vacation rentals. Certain areas of the island are zoned for and allow this use, but others do not.

"More than anything, what's changing this town is house by house being bulldozed and something giant being put up," said Council Member Anita Cereceda.

New Town Manager Roger Hernstadt agreed - he said he noticed how many streets were lined with "for rent" signs seeking vacationers.

One of the biggest issues with council is that the vacationers staying in the homes often aren't following the code of conduct - a list of rules, such as when quiet hours begin - that every short term renter is supposed to have posted in the unit and supposed to have clients sign before turning over the keys.

The town has no proof that this is happening in all short term rental cases and some council members are themselves experiencing a degradation of their quality of life.

Vice Mayor Tracey Gore lives on Primo Drive, a street near the downtown core which has become a hotspot for vacation renters. These temporary neighbors are on vacation and usually party late at night when residents are trying to tuck in.

Gore's complaint, and query of staff, is that her only option after-hours is to complain to the Lee County Sheriff's Department. She wants a connection between the Sheriff and the town so that the town can have a record of rental units that consistently cause problems for their street.

Mayor Dennis Boback said if someone was going to have a short term rental, it should be required for the owner's name and 24-hour phone number, not the property manager, should be posted on the property somewhere so that if tenants were causing a disturbance, neighbors could call the owner directly. To address the problem of rentals being in zones where they are prohibited, Realtors need to be held responsible for telling potential buyers about the town's codes and regulations on rentals, Boback said.

"When people buy houses, they don't understand rules. They think they can do what they want," Council Member Bruce Butcher said.

Shamp said the issue of short term rentals was deserving of dedicated time and effort from town staff, and investment from the town. With websites like airbnb.com, short term rentals are a growing problem that will only get worse without a program to monitor and manage. A quick search on airbnb.com shows 111 available rentals on the beach; all but one were for the rental of an entire home. On vrbo.com, another popular site for vacation rentals, more than 300 homes were available. Both websites showed homes available the entire seven miles on the island.

Hernstadt said creating a better program for registering rentals would take someone dedicated to the task as that staff member would have to monitor rental websites and search for violators, as well as follow up on cases. The town hired a second code enforcement officer last year, with the understanding that that individual would focus on short term rentals as well as help with other code compliance issues.

"You'll never eliminate it, but you can manage it better than we do," Boback said. "No issue is more difficult to deal with than short term rentals."

Judy Haataja, an agent with Century 21 TriPower Realty, lives and works on Fort Myers Beach. Her company does both real estate and short term rentals around the island. Haataja says she knows that short term rentals can cause problems, but she believes the biggest problems are in certain areas.

"The problem is the closer you get to Times Square, the worse the problem is," she said. "That's where the spring breakers like to rent."

Most of the rental companies regulate their customers, she said; at her company, the renters sign an agreement and the code of conduct is posted in the house. She knows the problem usually is that a home is supposed to fit a certain number of people, and more people end up sleeping there than the allowed number.

"One thing is, someone can be renting and have guests over," she said. "People are on vacation, they want to have get-togethers."

TriPower Realty has a 24-hour hotline if a neighbor is having a problem with a rental.

"We go out and talk to them first. If that doesn't resolve it, we have called the police before and they've made people leave," she said.

She doesn't think the town should hire an extra person to monitor these rental violations, as it's better left up to the police if there's a serious disturbance. She thinks the town should get together with the rental companies and go over policy. Some people live elsewhere and rent their properties on their own on the beach - in those cases, she thinks the town will have a hard time figuring out how to regulate those kinds of rentals.

"We do live on a resort island and we have people coming here from all walks of life. But we live here," she said. "The objective has to be a healthy balance between residential and tourism, and the community is always struggling with that."

 
 

 

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