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Sarasota explores expanding vacation rental regulations

City commissioners heard a pitch to apply rules to hundreds of city properties operating as short-term rentals.

The City Commission will consider expanding the vacation rentals ordinance citywide.
The City Commission will consider expanding the vacation rentals ordinance citywide.
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For now, the city of Sarasota’s vacation rental registration ordinance applies only to the Coastal Islands Overlay District, where 138 property owners currently rent homes on a minimum weekly basis. 

With upwards of 700 more properties operating as vacation rentals scattered throughout the city, though, the City Commission may soon take up the matter of expanding the ordinance over the entire jurisdiction.

Commissioner Jen Ahearn-Koch collaborated with city staff to pitch the proposal at Monday’s commission workshop to expand the coverage of the ordinance because of the growing vacation rental industry. How many of the 700 or so homes are used as short-term rentals, though, remains unknown as some may be owner-occupied. A vacation rental must either be an entire home or an accessory building on the property.

There are enough of them, according to Ahearn-Koch, to explore the possibilities.

“Other neighborhoods in our city are being impacted and their quality of life is being impacted by hotel houses,” Ahearn-Koch said. “What does it look like if we were to make this citywide? We know that constituents’ property values are important. Their quality of life is important. But if this is something they're asking for, I think we all need to go into this eyes wide open about what it will cost because it does take staff time. It does take technology. It does take enforcement.”

The vacation rental ordinance was adopted in May, applicable only to homes on Lido Key, St, Armands Key, Bird Key, Coon Key, Otter Key and the northern portion of Siesta Key. A vacation rental is defined by state statute as  “any unit, group of units, dwelling, building or group of buildings within a single complex of buildings which is rented to guests more than three times in a calendar year for periods of less than 30 days or one calendar month, whichever is less, or which is advertised or held out to the public as a place regularly rented to guests.”

The current city ordinance further requires a minimum stay of seven full days and seven full nights to qualify as a legal vacation rental. 

Vacation rental owners must register the property with the city and comply with a host of safety and behavior standards to maintain their status. City compliance specialists inspect properties, but currently there aren't enough specialists to support a citywide expansion.

Lucia Panica, the city’s director of development services, said without space for more personnel at City Hall, expanding the ordinance citywide would not be implemented until fiscal year 2025 when the city’s “one stop shop” building currently under construction is completed.

City software shows some 700 properties used as short-term rentals outside the Coastal Island Overlay District.

The current fee structure for a vacation rental is $250 for initial registration, $150 for renewal, $100 for an emended registration, $50 for first re-inspection should a property fail to comply with all standards, and $100 for second and third re-inspections. The rentals would also be subject to business taxes, sales taxes and tourism taxes. 

Whether those fees can be adjusted to help cover the cost of additional personnel required for enforcement is questionable, City Attorney Robert Fournier cautioned commissioners, citing possible state preemptions. 

“Is there any method or way we could build in our fee so that they can't be preempted?” Ahearn-Koch asked.

“No,” was the brief, and expected, response from Fournier.

The discussion over costs to implement citywide expansion will be on the agenda of upcoming budget sessions, City Manager Marlon Brown told commissioners.

The city used software that culls marketing of vacation rentals in the city to determine the number of such properties within city limit. Unknown is how many are owner-occupied, which are not included under the ordinance. Staff would have to contact those property owners individually to make that assessment.

An application form and more details about the current vacation rental ordinance are available on the city’s website at



Andrew Warfield

Andrew Warfield is the Sarasota Observer city reporter. He is a four-decade veteran of print media. A Florida native, he has spent most of his career in the Carolinas as a writer and editor, nearly a decade as co-founder and editor of a community newspaper in Mecklenburg County, North Carolina.

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