Concerned about an increase in illegal rentals in neighborhoods, residents are asking officials to take action.
Illegal short-term rentals aren’t a new issue in Sarasota County, but they’re certainly a persistent one.
On Siesta Key, in particular, residents are hypervigilant for the potential spread of vacation rentals into neighborhoods.
At an Oct. 4 Siesta Key Association meeting, President Gene Kusekoski encouraged those in attendance to be watchful for any short-term rentals in their neighborhoods, noting that some association members have recently reported an increase in rental activity on the island.
Kusekoski said residents have to monitor for any violations for multiple reasons. One, because it helps the county enforce the regulations already in place. In single-family residential districts, dwelling units are only allowed to be rented as a whole, and they may not be rented for a period of shorter than 30 days.
“If you see these things, you have to report them,” Kusekoski said. “There are some constraints on enforcement, but we need to at least know it’s happening so we can build a case.”
In 2017, attempting to make it easier to enforce violations of those regulations, the county added a provision specifically prohibiting the advertising of illegal short-term rentals. Even after that change, residents say the problems have not gone away.
That’s another reason why Siesta Key Association leaders want residents to speak up about any issues they encounter. Given the popularity of rental sites such as Airbnb and VRBO, Kusekoski said there’s a push from renters to relax the regulations in place.
“People are going into neighborhoods and buying single-family homes,” Kusekoski said. “They lobby to have the ordinances changed to allow the short-term rentals, because sadly, they cannot monetize the investment they make.”
At a Sept. 12 county budget workshop, three members of the public spoke in favor of allowing more rentals on Siesta Key. They said they received a letter from a group called Good Neighbors of Sarasota Beach, formed to advocate against short-term rentals, warning them not to rent their properties illegally. The speakers argued allowing short-term rentals would increase the county’s tourist development tax income, capitalizing on visitors’ interest in renting homes in neighborhoods.
If properly regulated, the speakers argued short-term rentals would be beneficial.
“Why are we enforcing these rules that are driving bigger families away from Siesta Key?” Chad Waites said.
The Siesta Key Association wants to make it clear that, at least within the neighborhoods it represents, residents don’t support allowing more short-term rentals. The group has successfully gotten the attention of County Commissioner Al Maio, who asked staff to produce a report on short-term rental enforcement at an Oct. 9 meeting.
Maio expressed concern that, even when the county issued violations about illegal rentals, renters were able to come into compliance without serious punishment — only to later put their property back on the market.
“There are people, I think, who are just smirking at us, renting when they’re not supposed to, impacting the full-time residents,” Maio said.
Through a spokesperson, the county said staff is still working to assemble the report Maio requested. The county did not provide any additional information regarding short-term rental regulations and enforcement after multiple requests for comment.
Based on Maio’s comments, Kusekoski was optimistic residents’ vigilance would eventually result in more effective enforcement of the county’s short-term rental rules.
“We just need to figure out how to get a handle on this thing and keep them constrained to the areas they’re permitted in,” Kusekoski said.