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Sarasota Friday, Nov. 12, 2021 2 months ago

Laurel Park residents target short-term rental

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The neighborhood association succeeded in getting the city to respond to a property that was allowing one-night stays.
by: David Conway Deputy Managing Editor

In mid-October, Alice Sundstrom reached out to Sarasota officials with a message of distress: a hotel had set up shop in her neighborhood, in violation of city regulations.

Sundstrom a member of the Laurel Park Neighborhood Association, and she was calling attention to activity at the El Tropicale condominiums at 1910 Morrill St.

Property owners had converted the 11-unit complex from residential use into short-term rentals for vacationers earlier this year, Sundstrom said. When Laurel Park neighborhood representatives looked up online listings for the property, they found units were being rented for stays as short as one night.

Despite efforts from the city to bring the property into compliance, Sundstrom said, issues continued to persist, and residents began to question why the city wasn’t more responsive to the issues they raised.

“El Tropicale has been allowed to operate and have a negative impact on our residential neighborhood for more than six months with no repercussions,” Sundstrom wrote.

Less than three weeks later, Laurel Park residents got some resolution on the matter.

The city cited the El Tropicale property owners for two code violations, and on Nov. 4, both parties appeared before a special magistrate for a hearing on the topic. During that hearing, representatives for the property owner acknowledged illegal short-term rental activity had taken place this year, but they maintained they had been enforcing the required seven-day minimum stay since June despite online advertisements listing shorter stays

Attorney Morgan Bentley, who represented property owner Belvedere RE Investments LLC, said the more recent problematic listings were all on third-party sites.

“None of these are ours,” Bentley said of a series of advertisements that came up in a Google search.

The city levied no fine against the property owner for any violations, but code compliance staff will monitor the property and associated listings for the next two months to ensure no further issues arise. The city intends to revisit the case in January.

In a email newsletter to neighborhood association members on Nov. 5, the Laurel Park Neighborhood Association credited the vigilance of residents for influencing the outcome of the hearing.

In addition to lobbying the city to take action, representatives for the neighborhood association appeared at the hearing and presented the magistrate with a petition from residents concerned about activity at El Tropicale and a letter in support of the city’s citations.

“The magistrate was impressed by the approximate 90 signatures on the petition, which reinforced that it was a significant neighborhood issue,” the newsletter stated.

City code compliance staff affirmed that resident input is crucial for addressing issues with illegal short-term rentals in neighborhoods.

Diane Kennedy, the city’s code compliance manager, said the department doesn’t have the resources necessary to proactively identify rentals that violate applicable regulations. As a result, the city takes a complaint-driven approach, responding when citizens inform staff of potential problem properties.

“We simply don’t have enough time to sit and web crawl,” Kennedy said.

That could be changing soon. As part of the adoption of new regulations on “hotel houses” on the barrier islands, the city is teaming up with Denver-based company Granicus to monitor for potential noncompliance with short-term rental properties. Kennedy said the partnership will involve tracking potential violations citywide, not just on the barrier islands — which means a more proactive approach than what’s currently in place. 

Kennedy acknowledged that tracking and addressing short-term rental violations is a challenge for code compliance staff, but between citizen partnerships and forthcoming third-party help, the department is focused on responding to any problems.

“We’re trying to keep it under control as best we can,” Kennedy said.

This article has been edited to correct Alice Sundstrom’s role with the Laurel Park Neighborhood Association.

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