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Council gets first look at short term rental update

August 30, 2017
Jessica Salmond - News Editor ( , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

Concerned business owners and residents dotted the Fort Myers Beach town council chambers as the council members dug into a review of the short term rental ordinance.

Jessie Titus of Fort Myers Beach Realty said she was nervous that the intent of the ordinance could be lost if changes aren't carefully made.

"The original one was about setting up a zoning district and grandfathering properties," she said. "If that ordinance changes, you can't regulate certain things and that law would go away."

Fort Myers Beach is a popular spot for these rentals and has different zoning areas for weekly and monthly rentals. The beach is a popular place to rent out a home for a vacation, and the problem lies in the tenants who break the town code of conduct. Vice Mayor Tracey Gore, who lives on Primo Drive, has expressed frustration in the past about dealing with vacationers who have no regard for the residential nature of the neighborhood. If someone has an issue after hours, they have to call the Sheriff's Office. Getting ahold of the landlord is not always accessible.

According to the land development code, short term renters are supposed to register their homes with the town, but a program was never set up to collect that data.

The revised ordinance cracks down on who is responsible for upholding community standards when short term rentals are involved.

Community Development Director Kara Stewart has been developing that program for the town as part of the ordinance revision so that there is data on who to call in case of a problem.

"This is not about trying to control whether someone can or can't rent," said Town Manager Roger Hernstadt at Thursday's planning meeting. "What this really is about is making sure that whoever is doing the renting is responsible, to make sure their tenant does not become a burden so the town doesn't have to manage the behavior."

The current code says the renter must provide a phone number that someone will answer 24/7, so if the tenant is being accused of a noise complaint at 1 a.m.the town knows who to call; however, Hernstadt pointed out there are no repercussions for the renter if they choose to ignore the call.

The revision also reworks the occupancy allowance for short term rentals. Currently, only five unrelated people are allowed to occupy one dwelling. The suggested revision alters that number to two people per room, plus two people for the overall residence; a 3-bedroom home could then be allowed to sleep eight unrelated people.

"The new language opens it up, and for larger rental units, there's a significant advantage," Council Member Joanne Shamp said.

The council discussed options for including condominium associations into the registration program, but that poses a problem as many of the condos have their own enforcement systems set up.

"You'd be hard pressed to hold an association responsible," Mayor Dennis Boback said. "Condos handle it in-house. If you want all the complaints to come to the town, we'd need a whole staff for that."

Council agreed it could consider giving the condos the option to opt in or out. Hernstadt also said the town would set up a hotline number that was available 24/7 so residents can call to make a complaint, but council members were wary of who would have to be answering those calls late at night.

The program will most likely consist of a registration process for all short term renters with a 24/7 phone number and a yearly renewal date. The initial fee has not been set but the renewal fee would be discounted 50 percent, Stewart said, as an incentive to renew on time. Should the renter fail to renew they would have to pay the full fee again.

Hernstadt said there could be a quarterly check-in report too, which Boback supported. Titus, however, said that would be a lot of paperwork for rental companies or even individuals who have multiple properties. It would also cause a headache for town staff.

"Personally, I'm for the (annual) registration," she said. "Who will be the bean counter looking at these (quarterly)?"

The program will be what the council decides to make it, Hernstadt said.

"It could be something as simple as registration which our code calls for to something that puts burden of compliance on the renters," he said.

The revised ordinance has not been scheduled yet for a first hearing. The council decided it wanted to hold a public meeting to get feedback from residents and renters alike to collect concerns, thoughts and opinions. The date has not been set but it will be after Sept. 15.

"My experience with it, if you set it up right and you get everyone through the first 6 months to a year, it's smooth sailing after that," Hernstadt said. "It's clearly a quality of life issue, and the council needs to decide where it wants to set the bar."



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