HOLMES BEACH – City officials are getting a response from recent efforts to crack down on owners of short-term rentals who violate parking, trash and noise ordinances.
In response to residents' escalating concerns about violations at rental properties, officials began citing owners of short-term rental properties who are in violation of city codes last month, automatically suspending their city rental business tax receipts or rental licenses.
Owners cited must respond in 14 days or appear before the code enforcement board, which can fine up to $250 a day for violations.
Brian Derr, owner of 207 N. Harbor Drive, flew in from Chicago for the Holmes Beach Commission meeting last week to protest being singled out among the first batch of violators when he is unaware of recurring problems with his renters.
"I'm not fighting it, I want to understand," said Derr, who said he purchased his home from developer Shawn Kaleta, who has built many rental homes in Holmes Beach.
Mayor Rich Bohnenberger said that the city is working from the most recent violations back, not the number of complaints.
"We were inundated (with complaints), so we sent the letter as a shot over the bow," he said. "It was designed to get everybody's attention."
"You're going to get people like me getting a bad taste and not recommending Anna Maria Island," Derr said.
The inspections are uncovering evidence of non-compliance with city ordinances and state law, Bohnenberger said, with some owners misrepresenting their rental property as residences, not paying the 5 percent tourist tax or illicitly obtaining homestead exemptions.
Commissioner David Zaccagnino said Kaleta has not violated the city's code, but that developers could easily sidestep regulations requiring one parking space per bedroom by building one-bedroom houses and advertising them as "sleeps 16."
A new state law prohibits cities from enacting rental restrictions if they were not already in place by last summer, Bohnenberger said. He added that while Holmes Beach has restrictions in place in some parts of town, it's too late to expand the restrictions.
In addition, City Attorney Patricia Petruff said, the code has no clear definition of what constitutes a bedroom.
"The city should enforce what's on the books," said resident Mary Buonagura, who is concerned about the "plethora of pastel palaces popping up all over faster than sandspurs in summer." The rentals are "changing the Island from a balanced use of land including residential and a rental mix to a short-term rental vacation resort," she said. In the process, older residences are being devalued and local architectural history is being destroyed with "Disney-like facades," she said.
Larry Chatt, of Island Real Estate, said that a year ago he addressed trash problems by requiring his clients to sign up for rear door trash pickup.
He said he asks renters how many people are in a party, requiring them to sign for the number of guests, children and cars that will be at the property, then follows up to check on them. He distributes local ordinances and turtle laws, and provides a 24/7 emergency phone number for problems, he said.
The Holmes Beach Police Department needs a list of the rentals that each rental agent manages, so they can contact the agent when complaints are called in, commissioners said.
"We must acknowledge everybody's property rights," said resident and commission candidate Andy Sheridan. "Tourism is not all bad. It's been good to residents."
He suggested that police and code enforcement officers work together on a common data bank, which could be reviewed for violations at rental license renewal time. He also recommended the city hire a new code enforcement officer before the peak tourist season arrives.
A second code enforcement officer is in training in house, Bohnenberger said.