As illegal short-term rentals continue to spark complaints, Code Enforcement Officer John Lally has found himself trying to balance the demands of tourists and full-time residents,
“I really don’t want (tourists) to leave with a bad taste in their mouths,” Lally told members of the Siesta Key Association earlier this month.
The key to citing someone for violating the county’s ordinance on short-term rentals are the leases provided to the renters and an exchange of money, Lally said. However, procuring those documents is a delicate task.
“I’m trying to be as light-footed as I can on this,” he said.
Lourdes Ramirez, former longtime SKA president, told Lally she understood his compassion for tourists.
“But understand that those of us who live in those single-family neighborhoods and deal with these (short-term rentals) … especially during Spring Break, when (visitors) think they can party into the pool area and they’re very loud at one o’clock in the morning … it’s very hard for us as well,” she said.
Short-term rentals don’t belong in areas zoned Residential Single Family, she added.
Catherine Luckier, current SKA president, said she and her fellow board members continue to receive emails and questions about the county’s zoning code regarding rentals.
“Are there some things they can do simply to document (situations) that would be helpful to you?” she asked Lally.
Lally said information posted on websites by homeowners to attract renters could prove helpful. However, the documents proving a lessor/lessee relationship are essential.
“What I have to prove is an exchange of money through a lease,” he said. “Anyone that rents property has to maintain records. … I can take them to the special magistrate just for not providing records.”
When Luckner asked whether photos of people coming and going in neighborhoods would help, Lally said the people who take such photos have to be willing to testify to what they have seen. It does help if a homeowner who sees people coming and going in short time periods at a nearby house to ask some of those people for copies of their leases.
“Then, we’ve really got something we can take to the special magistrate,” Lally said.
Even some of the real estate agents on the Key do not understand the provisions of the county ordinance regarding short-term rentals, he said.
Potential homebuyers have been questioning Key Realtors about the ordinance, specifically regarding how much leeway they will have in renting houses they buy as second homes.
When SKA Vice President Peter van Roekens asked whether clarifications in the zoning code about short-term rentals would help, Lally replied, “We are looking into the possibility to see if we can get the language reworded.”
Although the Florida Legislature this spring loosened regulations regarding short-term rentals, the law did not supersede zoning restrictions already in place in counties such as Sarasota. Therefore, Lally explained, county officials would have to be careful in any revisions to the current ordinance, for fear of its being declared a new ordinance. In that case, because of the state law, the county would have no ordinance, he said.
When Sarasota County Commission Chairwoman Nora Patterson asked Lally what is not clear in the current ordinance, Lally said he finds people often misunderstand the section about how often they can rent a home. He read aloud the portion that states a house cannot be rented more than once every 30 days.
“Well, that’s pretty clear,” Patterson told him.
The problem is with February, Lally said.
“February doesn’t have 30 days,” he said. “Any rental in February would be an illegal rental.”
Patterson pointed out that the city of Sarasota, the county and many other counties “have been operating under similar language for a long time.”
“It’s pretty clear somebody can’t rent for three days at a time, which is more what they are doing,” she said.
Patterson said she would not mind clarifying the ordinance, “but I don’t want to risk making the ordinance null and void.”
Considering the risk any modification would pose, Lally said he felt he could enforce the ordinance as written.
“The message is getting out,” he said.