A knock on the door interrupted Jason Kuntz’s vacation — it was a man in a uniform.
Kuntz said he knew it wasn’t the police, so he wasn’t worried when he opened the door to greet a code enforcement officer for the town of Longboat Key.
The officer asked when Kuntz arrived on the island, how long he was staying in the Country Club Shores home and then told him it was illegal to rent for fewer than 30 days on Longboat Key, Kuntz said.
The conversation ended with a $100 fine.
“And I explained to him that’s kind of ridiculous to expect an out-of-town tenant who did not sign anything with the management team to pay a fine,” Kuntz said. “He apologized and understood, but issued the citation.”
The town of Longboat Key has issued 23 citations in less than a month for short-term rentals since commissioners passed an ordinance allowing code enforcement and police officers to issue civil penalties for “an act” in violation of a town code or ordinance, town records show.
The citations and fee schedules include fines for those who break the town’s rules for short-term rentals, turtle protection and construction guidelines.
One property manager — Equity Villa Fund LP of San Diego — has been cited six times, fines totaling $2,350, each citation for short-term rentals at the same property: 537 Schooner Lane. Equity Villa Fund LP, did not return a call for comment.
Code enforcement officers are given discretion, just like a police officer has the discretion to give a ticket. Of each of the rules enforced by citations, short-term rental fines have proved the most prevalent — 23 of 26 total citations.
“That’s done intentionally by the town manager with the code enforcement officer,” said Commissioner Randy Clair. “What the town manager has done is pick the most problematic issue to see if we did a good job with our ordinance or do we need to rethink some of our assumptions.”
The town’s ultimate goal is compliance with town rules that have been in place since 1995, Allen Parsons, Planning, Zoning and Building director, said. 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.
Kuntz said he was unaware of the town ordinance when he rented the Country Club Shores home through VRBO, a short-term rental website. This citation process, particularly when applied to renters, could give Longboat Key a poor reputation, Kuntz said. “That could ruin somebody’s opinion of Longboat Key.”
But that’s not to say that recipients of town citations cannot contest the fines — anyone who gets one may write a request for a hearing within 30 days of receiving the citation. The request for contest will land a citation recipient before the town’s Code Enforcement Board or special magistrate.
The town has not received any contests for civil citations, Parsons said.
Of all of the citations that have been issued in the past month for short-term rentals, most have been in Country Club Shores. That’s because Country Club Shores is an ideal testing ground, Parsons said — a residential neighborhood with no grandfathered tourism units.
The town has 46 grandfathered tourism properties, places that are allowed to have tenants for fewer than 30 days. These properties are “grandfathered” because they had tourism use before the town passed its prohibition. Most of those properties are on Gulf of Mexico Drive and include places such as Silver Sands, Sand Cay and Sea Gate.
Lynn Larson, who lives in Country Club Shores, said she’s glad the town has an ordinance on the books to keep her neighborhood from becoming a tourist destination.
But property owners and managers should be held responsible for the fines imposed by the town, not tenants, Larson said.
“Where is the renter going to research whether this is a legal rental or not?” Larson said. “They say ignorance of the law is no excuse, but where would someone go to get information about the rental terms?”
This story was updated Tuesday, July 24 at 4:24 p.m.