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Siesta Key Friday, Jan. 11, 2019 2 months ago

Officials continue to explore potential rental enforcement actions on Siesta Key

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Siesta Key residents were presented with potential actions that the local code enforcement team may take in the face of increasing rental violations.
by: Samantha Chaney Staff Writer

As short-term rentals have spread throughout Siesta Key, so, too, has concern among full-time residents.

In fact, during an Oct. 4 Siesta Key Association meeting, President Gene Kusekoski encouraged residents on the Key to remain vigilant in watching for local rental violations. And, as awareness regarding the violations spread, Siesta Key residents decided to finally bring the issue of enforcement to County Commissioner Al Maio, who represents their district.

“We do know that people repeatedly get reported for properties that are getting rented,” SKA Vice President Catherin Luckner said. “And it doesn’t seem it’s a good way to stop them. And it’s not because there’s not enough enforcement — there’s lots of enforcement — but it doesn’t happen quickly.”

The question that remains, then, is what can be done about it moving forward.

As a result, Director Matt Osterhoudt of Sarasota County Planning and Development Services attended the Jan. 10 Siesta Key Association meeting to update residents on potential enforcement actions officials may take.

“The actual act of renting a facility, house or rental unit from somebody is something that the county cannot see,” Osterhoudt explained of enforcement difficulties. “It’s something that’s very challenging to say, ‘can I have a copy of that lease?’ People can just say, ‘oh, no thank you.’”

And, while there are already existing ordinances in the area outlining rental limitations, many of the zones are broken into districts. These districts, based on single-family dwelling units, multi-family dwelling units and more, are typically subject to different sets of limitations and rules. Siesta Key, of course, features a blend of these districts, making it difficult to apply one type of code violation to any or all rental units in question.

Therefore, Osterhoudt stressed the importance of collecting evidence, which he says is one of the biggest challenges to staff when it comes to code enforcement. Otherwise, he says that a few new ideas on the subject have come to light.

Irreversible Injury, Irreparable Harm

The first idea, Osterhoudt said, acts as more of a deterrent to those who may knowingly commit a rental violation. That is, in many of these cases, when officials find a rental unit to be in violation of the code, they may simply serve a penalty of $200. But, what if neighbors are truly being adversely affected at a larger scale?

Well, officials may just be able to turn to the “irreversible injury, irreparable harm” clause, which would only require a one-line change to the code enforcement section as a whole, rather than just the rental section alone. This way, violators may face greater penalty fines, hopefully dissuading them from taking similar action in the future.

“This is the Florida statute that says that, when a county enforces their local code, if they trip that provision, you can take your penalty up to $5,000,” Osterhoudt explained. “So what we’re asking our county commission later this month is to authorize a public hearing to consider making that change.”

Transient Accommodations Provisions

Transient accommodations provisions usually pertain to accommodations that house renters for short periods of time (think, for instance, of hotels or bed-and-breakfasts). And, in Siesta Key, these types of accommodations and provisions are only allowed in certain zoning districts, such as commercial districts.

However, not all units that are rented for short periods of time fall in commercial areas. For example, single-family districts often see transient rental situations. The problem? The provisions that apply to commercial districts will not apply to single-family residential areas.

Therefore, the code enforcement team is exploring how to possibly apply the transient accommodations provision to the code enforcement outline itself. This way, such provisions may be applied to districts or zones that are non-commercial in nature.

Of course, Osterhoudt reminded SKA members that such provisions may or may not work, depending on whether or not the rental situation is backed with proper proof.

“We need to be able to say the activity that’s happening at that house is not akin to some sort of rental,”  Osterhoudt warned “But that it’s akin to a transient accommodation.”

Citation Implementation

Currently, the general code enforcement process is primarily focused on voluntary compliance, meaning that progress is typically slow when violations are reported.

According to Osterhoudt, the system is designed for property owners to have one to two months to voluntarily comply without the use of judges once a confirmed violation is brought to their attention.

A citation system, though, just might help to expedite the process a bit.

“We are exploring the use of a citation, which might say right up front, ‘here’s your citation, we think that there’s a violation. You may now appeal this,’” Osterhoudt said.

Ultimately, of course, Osterhoudt tied everything back to the one crucial element in all cases of enforcement: evidence.

“Again, this all comes back to making sure we have enough evidence that [property owners] are somehow tripping these provisions,” he affirmed. “If we have evidence, then we can feel confident about pursuing that higher-level penalty.”

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