Longboat Key’s requirement for stays of 30 days or more on vacation rentals in residential neighborhoods is one of the main things that sets the town apart from other seaside vacation spots, many residents say.
To further keep an eye on the nearly 1,300 properties listed on short-term rental sites, including Airbnb and Vrbo, the town is considering a new requirement for rental owners to register their properties with the town.
The program would allow the town to have a more realistic idea of which residential properties are being used to house tourists for six months or less, the threshold between vacation and residential rentals.
“We are not prohibiting anyone from renting out their property,” Planning, Zoning and Building Director Allen Parsons said. “They still have the right to be able to do that. We’re not changing the amount of time, the length of time that anyone can rent their property.”
Under the proposed new rules, code enforcement fines could be levied on a property owner who does not register with the town and still rents the property on a short-term basis. Short-term rental violations fall under the list of those that are enforced through citation, rather than through the process that ends in an appearance before the town's special magistrate.
“We think that there is a benefit to having a registration program, so that we can have a better handle on all the property owners that would be renting their properties out for less than six months,” Parsons said.
The six-months-or-fewer timeframe matches up with requirements by Sarasota and Manatee counties for owners of such properties to pay tourist development taxes.
The town ordinance requires that residentially zoned properties that are being rented out must do so for durations of at least one month.
The town commission discussed the program before at its June 2022 workshop, but asked that staff clarify and simplify wording included in the ordinance.
The commission will discuss the possibility of a program again at its Dec. 12 workshop. No formal vote will be taken on the matter. If it is determined they would like to move forward with the program, the drafted ordinance will likely be added to the agenda for the commission’s January regular meeting for first reading.
In the program, property owners would be expected to fill out registration forms for their rental property. Then, the town would send a Public Works employee out to the property to inspect. Following passage of the inspection, the property owner would receive a statement to display in the home as proof of registration.
The statement would also include information for the renter regarding the town’s noise ordinance, emergency contact information and relevant resources.
Parsons said registering with the town not only benefits the property owner, but the town as well as they are able to keep tabs on the properties on the barrier island, giving them greater access to property owner information if a problem arises.
“It is meant to be a better way for us to be able to address if there are issues and to mitigate impacts to the residential properties,” Parsons said.
The town is one of the few that retains the power to regulate short-term rentals. This is largely in part to the town passing an ordinance in 1982 that eliminated the tourism zoning distinction, having all properties fall to residential or commercial.
About 30 properties were allowed to keep their tourism zoning, including Zota Beach Resort, as they were considered grandfathered properties. The properties would not be expected to register with the new program as they already face additional regulations not expected of residential properties.
In 2019, the town and a property owner settled a case for roughly half of the $6,200 fine for violating the 30-day rule. The town had sought a simple order forcing the owner to stop violating the rules and did not originally seek damages. "If you don't enforce this, it has the potential to change the character of the community," Town Manager Tom Harmer said at the time.
Bradenton Beach is of similar size to Longboat Key, but its residential style is very different and can be easily noted when driving across the bridge to the north end of the Key.
Driving down Gulf Drive on the Bradenton Beach side, one can easily identify that the majority of properties on both the Gulf and bay sides of the road are vacation rentals.
In 2011, the Florida Legislature preempted cities from regulating short-term vacation rentals. The legislation included a provision that grandfathered any existing ordinance regulating the properties that was passed before June 1, 2011.
“We are very careful with that because if we modify that in some way, there’s a potential that we would lose that grandfathered status,” Parsons said.