ANNA MARIA – The city of Anna Maria has a new ordinance on misleading advertising as part of its ongoing enforcement of vacation rental occupancy limits.
Adopted on second and final reading on Oct. 10, Ordinance 19-855 amends the city’s original misleading advertising ordinance adopted in 2016. The fines are now established in a new and separate city resolution also adopted last week.
The amended ordinance creates a legal mechanism for the city’s special magistrate to impose fines that range from five to 30 times the rental unit’s daily rate on those who repeatedly advertise excess occupancy limits.
“Repetitive misleading advertisement activity means when a vacation rental ordinance is advertised at an occupancy level that is not permitted under the vacation rental ordinance, and when discovered and notified of the misleading advertisement by the city, the advertisement is changed to the occupancy allowed, but later is changed to an occupancy that is not permitted under the vacation rental ordinance,” according to the ordinance.
“What’s happening is after five days they comply. We close the case and then they come back again and change it. It’s the repeat offenders we’re trying to address here,” Mayor Dan Murphy told the commission during last week’s meeting.
When presenting the ordinance for first reading in September, City Attorney Becky Vose said she was aware of vacation rentals in Anna Maria advertising 30-person occupancies.
According to Vose, first-time offenders will be given a warning and a few days to cure the violation before fines and subsequent enforcement processes begin.
The ordinance states a special magistrate hearing shall be required, and the special magistrate shall determine the proper and appropriate penalty for the first offense violation, not to exceed $200 per day, for which the violation continues after email notice has been sent to the management company, the individual in charge and/or the property owner if:
- The violation is contested, and the special magistrate finds the property to have been in violation;
- The violation is not cured within 10 days after an email notice is sent; or
- The fine is not paid within 20 days after such email notice is sent.
“For repetitive misleading advertising activities, a special magistrate hearing shall be required. The special magistrate shall set the appropriate fine based upon the severity of the violation,” according to the ordinance.
The ordinance notes that the severity of the violation could include the number of occupants advertised and whether the violator has published misleading advertising before.
The ordinance states that fines levied by the special magistrate for repeat violations shall be no less than five times and no more than 30 times the rental unit’s daily rental rate.
“Every day a violation continues shall constitute a separate offense which shall be separately punished,” the amended ordinance states.
In 2015, the city commission adopted a vacation rental ordinance that limits new vacation rentals to a maximum of eight occupants. More than 100 existing vacation rentals were granted additional occupancy limits in order to resolve Bert Harris claims filed by vacation rental owners who had one year to file a claim.
Each registered vacation rental’s occupancy limit is documented as part of the city’s annual vacation rental registration requirements. The city contracts a third-party screen-scraping company to continually monitor the number of occupants advertised at Airbnb, VRBO and other online vacation rental platforms, and those advertisements are compared to the allowed occupancy limit stated in the registration documents.