Concerns over short-term rentals on Siesta Key have continued to move up the chain and finally reached the Sarasota County Commission on Feb. 26. At a morning commission meeting, commissioners voted unanimously to allow the possibility of an increased fine for rentals that violate Sarasota County Code.
Of late, Siesta Key residents have found themselves in search of a solution to the illegal rentals. These short-term rentals, which last less than 30 days, are prohibited in single-family residential zoning areas.
Thus, these "pseudo-hotels," they say, lack commercial oversight and increase levels of trash, noise and safety concerns in residential areas. Additionally, there are those who say that calling the authorities usually provides little relief.
"The consequences are the citizens are forced to be in a position of enforcement,” said Margaret Jean Cannon, a full-time Siesta Key resident for almost 20 years. “We’re the ones that are doing the quick fix and we’re the ones that are cleaning up the trash on the beach and we’re the ones that are also calling when there's too much noise in the community. These increases in oversight are not being picked up by the county. They’re being picked up by the residents."
Full-time resident Joe Volpe, a board member of the Siesta Key Association, voiced similar concerns. In particular, he cited several incidents in which he witnessed raucous and sometimes violent renters in neighborhoods that are supposed to be for single-family dwelling units.
He says he is simply tired of people turning the other cheek when it comes to the illegal rentals.
"Right now, the owners of these houses play dumb and say they don't know the rules," Volpe said.
Until now, a person who violates the county code can be fined up to $250 a day on their first violation and then up to $500 a day for repeated violations.
What the county plans to do now, however, is allow a fine increase as outlined by Florida state statute.
Specifically, they want to implement the “irreversible or irreparable harm clause,” which states that a person can be fined up to $5,000 a day depending on the level of damage they do in repeated violations.
“The proposed fine increase would be suitable for those violations where harm has been done and cannot be repaired or reversed,” according to a memo by the County Planning and Development Services. “This could apply to issues such as: illegal rental of dwelling units, sound, the removal of a grand tree, etc.”
While all commissioners were on board with the change, they also addressed that the fine increase was not a quick fix or ultimate solution to the longstanding frustration on Siesta Key.
“It’s a start,” Commissioner Nancy Detert said, “But every time we think up a law, someone thinks up a way around it.”
“What we're seeing here — and the stories that we're hearing — really is devastating our residential neighborhoods,” Commission Chair Charles Hines said. “So, we need to stay vigilant. I think this is a good start for us.”