ANNA MARIA – City officials are searching for ways to better address vacation rental-related noise ordinance violations, with a focus on vacation rentals that produce repeat noise complaints.
During the Thursday, Aug. 8, city commission meeting, Mayor Dan Murphy proposed lowering the city’s current $500 fine for a cited noise ordinance violation. He said the current fine is onerous, excessive and the highest in Manatee County.
Murphy noted that the owner of a family home on North Shore Drive has not yet paid a $500 noise violation by a family member in March.
City Attorney Becky Vose said the additional $150 administrative fee levied by Special Magistrate Karla Owens at the appeals hearing in April also remains unpaid. During that hearing, Deputy Matthew Kenyan said the Sheriff’s Office previously responded to noise complaints and issued verbal warnings at that same address – 60 North Shore Drive – in 2015 and in 2017.
Commissioner Doug Copeland asked Vose if the city could put more teeth in its ordinance regarding the failure to pay noise ordinance fines and appeal fees. He said not doing so leaves the city “holding the bag” for those fines and fees.
Vose said the city uses a collection agency to collect on unpaid parking tickets and might consider that for noise ordinance citations too.
Murphy said the city also needs to clarify who gets fined when repeat noise citations are issued for the same address.
Vose said deputies may be hesitant to issue a $500 citation to a vacationing family. She said warnings are not given before parking tickets are issued and she suggested issuing $35 citations for a deputy’s first noise-related visit. The fines would then increase significantly for additional offenses.
Copeland questioned whether some people might simply consider $35 a reasonable fee to pay in exchange for being noisy.
Vose raised the possibility of also fining the property owner and the property manager. She said this might incentivize owners and managers to avoid noisy guests.
During public comment, it was noted that fining a property owner for a guest’s violation was previously considered in Holmes Beach but discarded due to concerns about the legality of fining an owner or agent for the actions of a guest. Vose said she would research that.
“I think the owner and the property manager have an obligation to make sure the vacation renters understand what’s allowed and what is not allowed. If they don’t do a good job on that, then they should be hit pretty hard,” Commissioner Dale Woodland said. “I don’t want to penalize the visitor that wasn’t informed, but I damn sure want to put a lot of responsibility on the property manager and/or owner.”
Commissioner Chair Brian Seymour disagreed with Woodland’s assertion that local rental and property management companies are not emphasizing noise ordinance compliance.
“I know most of the intermediate management companies and they are all over it,” Seymour said.
Seymour believes the local companies have stepped up their efforts to inform guests that the Island is a quiet place at night. He also said some guests falsely claim ignorance when confronted with a noise complaint.
Commissioner Carol Carter supports a tiered fine structure for properties that receive repeat noise complaints.
Vose said the city could utilize a “three strikes and you’re out” policy that results in a property being declared a nuisance after three cited offenses – but she’s not aware of any rental properties that have received three $500 noise citations.
Commissioner Amy Tripp asked Sgt. Mike Jones how many noise complaints are resolved with a warning.
“The majority comply once we have a talk with them,” Jones said.
Tripp said she wants to maintain the warning-first approach that seems to be working. She doesn’t like the idea of fining a family $35 for their kids making noise in the pool and she supports lowering the current $500 fine.
Woodland disagreed with Tripp about warnings and fines. He said those who live next to problematic vacation rentals are repeatedly subjected to noise issues that go unpenalized because it’s different guests each week.
“We don’t have a huge problem, but we have a lot of repeat problems at the same addresses,” Woodland said.
Copeland said the incident reports included in the commissioners’ meeting packets indicate many noise complaints pertain to people talking when gathered around a swimming pool at night. The reports indicate most complaints were resolved with a warning.
“I don’t know how draconian we want to get,” Copeland said.
Vose said she would continue to research the possibilities discussed and she was asked to draft proposed noise ordinance language to discuss at the commission’s Thursday, Aug. 22, meeting.