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Longboat Key Monday, Jun. 24, 2019 3 months ago

Deadline approaches on response to Longboat rental lawsuit

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Property owners, managers have until this week to acknowledge town's legal action
by: Eric Garwood Managing Editor

The clock is running on a pair of property management companies with offices in Southwest Florida to respond to Longboat Key’s lawsuit over its short-term rental rules.

The town on June 4 filed suit in Sarasota County for the 12th Circuit against Equity Villa Fund LP and Equity Residences LLC, both with Naples addresses, over their operation of a home at 537 Schooner Lane, which the lawsuit alleges is being operated improperly as a vacation rental and fractional-ownership site.

Summonses were served on June 6, starting a 20-day count for both companies to respond.  Town Attorney Maggie Mooney called the companies' "unrepentant" in violating town rules that forbid rentals of less than 30 days in an area not zoned for tourism.

The town has issued more than 12 citations to Equity Villa Fund, with no payment, over violation of the rule, the lawsuit claims. Equity Villa Fund claims the town’s rules have been pre-empted by Florida statute. The town disputes that claim, stating that while the rule was amended and restated, the rule was not “materially modified in substance from its pre-June 1, 2011 form.’’

 “Our ordinance has a long-standing history,’’ Mooney said “It predates the 2011 pre-emption by the state legislature, but we expect that argument will be raised by their counsel and we just need to address that.’’

That date is important, for all short-term rental rules passed after 2011 were nullified when the state Legislature passed a law allowing short-term rentals anywhere across the state.

While not seeking damages, the town is seeking an injunction against the companies to stop using the property as it’s been doing.

The lawsuit also seeks the Equity Villa Fund stop doing business in Florida, as its certificate of authority to transact business in the state was revoked in 2017.

The companies have not returned phone calls seeking comment. 

++ADA suit results shared around state

+Following the dismissal of a lawsuit claiming Longboat Key’s town website did not meet standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act, the results of that federal case have been shared around the state by the Florida League of Cities and an association of state city and town attorneys.

 In the ruling to dismiss, which was not challenged by the blind Daytona Beach man who has sued dozens of towns, cities and counties, the Judge William F. Jung wrote Joel Price was promptly accommodated by town staffers, who mailed him documents compatible with reader devices that were not similarly compatible on the town’s website. The judge in the case also ruled that Price had no standing  in the local community  and “does not make clear his ties or connections to the town or as it related particularly to him.

Dozens of cases alleging similar ADA facts have been settled across the state, with the towns and cities paying in the range of $10,000 to $25,000.

In the 2020 budget, the town is setting aside $25,000 for ADA compliance. The two projects identified by the town:

  • Live closed captioning for streaming video of town meetings. The town currently adds closed captioning to version of the video posted after the meetings have concluded.
  • Paying for third party vendors to make complicated documents compatible with reading devices used by the visually impaired. Town officials have changed the formatting of even the simplest documents, eliminating underlines, altering line spacing and paying heed to such things as document headers and footers that can be misread.

Because of the difficulty in converting such documents as spreadsheets, charts, graphs and passes that contain strike-through and underlining edits, the town is not able to post such material digitally. Agenda packages that contain such documents, similar to the versions provided for the seven town commissioners, are available in hard copy form at Town Hall.

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