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‘Hotel house’ dilemma

A 90-page ordinance of regulatory hassles is not the answer to abusive vacation rentals. There are alternatives to the heavy hand of the government.

  • Longboat Key
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The signs are like summer dandelions — seemingly in every yard on St. Armands and Lido Keys.

Although nestled in one of the greatest vacation spots and tourist destinations in Florida, many of the residents on these two keys don’t like what’s happening in about a dozen homes identified as “hotel houses.”

Just about everyone can sympathize. For sure, the vast majority of people want to live in a safe, clean, peaceful, attractive neighborhood  where neighbors get along, are friendly and share many of the same values — especially those values related to the way everyone lives.

No one wants to live next to a group of 20 or 30 annoying, raucous, drunk, dirty-mouth vacationers who don’t give a hoot about the neighbors they’ll probably never see again.

And that explains the proliferation of signs on the two keys. For more than two years, residents have been pleading and appeared three times at City Commission meetings urging the city to do something about what they deem to be out-of-control “hotel houses.”

Take Lucretia Tuffile, who lives on S. Washington Drive, and spoke to commissioners in January 2020:

“… I feel sick that the neighborhood I love and raising my daughter in is being changed because of a company trying to make money. It should not be allowed.

“We want families and people who live here year-round and have jobs and own local businesses. Do you really want a bunch of rental homes with 20-plus people in them affecting your community? My community? Please tell me the answer is no.”

At that same meeting, Chris Goglia, vice president of the St. Armands Neighborhood Association, showed commissioners a map of St. Armands and Lido Keys identifying 12 “hotel houses” with common ownership and 22 similar hotel houses on Siesta Key.

Goglia highlighted one home that has been advertising online that it “sleeps 25.”

Persuaded, commissioners did what they often do: Ordered the city attorney to prepare an ordinance with regulations that vacation rental homes and their owners would have to meet.

So here we are now. And not surprisingly, the 88-page ordinance City Attorney Bob Fournier prepared and commissioners approved on first reading last week is a bible of red tape.

Rather than do extensive research to determine how other communities have addressed vacation rentals — as the St. Armands representatives requested, the City Commission did what elected officials always do: They opted to make more laws and regulations while forgetting what government always forgets: When you make more laws, you take away people’s freedoms and, in this instance, property rights.

Clearly, Fournier’s proposed ordinance is intended to be so onerous and annoying that it will discourage any future developers and vacation home operators from coming into Sarasota’s barrier islands.

Voila! Just what the residents want.

You should read through the ordinance (see: It starts with requiring all single-family, two-family, three-family residences to register with the city ($250 fee). The requirements of that registration include, among dozens:

  • Naming a designated representative who will act as property manager — on-call 24-7 and required to be on site at the home within an hour of a request.
  • A document detailing the number of bedrooms and full bathrooms; plus an exterior site sketch of the property identifying all structures, pools, hot tubs, spas, fencing; and an interior building sketch for each floor identifying all bedrooms, other rooms, exits, hallways, stairways and elevators.
  • Proof the property is in compliance with the Florida Building Code and the Florida Fire Prevention Code; and that it has passed a city inspection.
  • A signed affidavit by the rental property’s owner that he or she is aware of all of the city’s vacation rental ordinances and city zoning regulations.
  • Posted signs inside with the address of the nearest hospital; non-emergency police number; dates and times of trash pickup; emergency evacuation instructions; and a statement excessive sound is subject to fine.
  • Homes with six or more bedrooms are required to keep a registry of occupants — names, addresses, phone numbers and must be available for inspection by the city “at all times.”
  • The maximum number of occupants in a single-family home district will be 10; 12 in a multiple family zone. And no more than six guests at a time can visit, and those visitors are prohibited from being in the home from 10 p.m. and 7 a.m.
  • For good measure, every home must post: “You are vacationing in a residential single-family zoned neighborhood. Please be a good neighbor by not making excessive noise or engaging in boisterous behavior, especially after 11 p.m. Such behavior can deprive your neighbors of the peaceful enjoyment of their home.”

You really need to read the entire ordinance to absorb how the extent of the regulations and imagine how they will create another new layer of city government, enforcement responsibility and, inevitably, increased taxpayer expense.

Now mind you, we wouldn’t want one of these homes as a next-door neighbor if they became a rotating fraternity bacchanalia. And we understand the neighbors’ distress.

But we would urge Sarasota city commissioners to think again before blithely approving this ordinance. Think about it in the context of:

  • Property rights. What about the couple that builds an eight-bedroom waterfront vacation home on S. Washington and twice a year hosts 25 of their family members for a fun  weekend reunion? Would they be subject to all of these “hotel house” regulations? No. Is this ordinance creating classes of owners with different rights?
  • Are the aggrieved residents asking the city to control other people’s property to their benefit at no cost? What about other city residents who have noisy neighbors? What do they get? Rather than turn to government for every remedy, here are four alternatives to consider:
  • The St. Armands and Lido Key residents can vote to create deed restrictions.
  • Push the city to enforce the city and state nuisance laws.
  • Harass the “hotel house” owners the way their renters harass the neighbors to convince them it is in their interest to be good neighbors.
  • Buy the “hotel houses” and sell them only to full-time families.



Matt Walsh

Matt Walsh is the CEO and founder of Observer Media Group.

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