A contentious city ordinance that bans future short-term rentals within single family and residential-estate neighborhoods was pushed through Tuesday on first reading by city council. Final reading is July 14.
Council first considered the issue in 2006, when roughly a few dozen rentals were identified, and the city first started receiving complaints of noise, overparking, and strewn garbage. Since then, the number of short-term rentals within city limits has more than doubled.
The ordinance is designed to stop new ones from going into business while the city figures out a way to eliminate the existing rentals.
A separate ordinance will phase out existing rentals. The city split the issue when property owners and the city couldn't agree on an amortization schedule that would reimburse certain costs over the period of a year before being required to cease operations.
Last week the planning commission recommended minor changes to the ordinance but asked it be held for further consideration. Their key concerns: should subdivisions with homeowner associations fall under the new rental ban, and should the ban -- which effects short-term rentals that are less than 30 days in duration, rented up to a maximum three times per year -- be extended to cover rentals longer than 30 days.
Council debated the same issues for more than two hours on Tuesday. In the end, they agreed to adopt the ordinance in order to stop a growing number of property owners from converting their homes into short-term rentals, with the caveat they might make changes prior to second reading.
On the issue of applying the ordinance to planned unit development (PUD) districts, like the Waterford and Sawgrass subdivisions, outside attorney Andrea Zelman said the planning consultants had been "operating under the assumption that PUDs are subject to deed restrictions. If they don't currently have any restrictions on short-term rentals, they could."
Assuming the ability to ban short-term rentals, they were excluded in the ordinance adopted Tuesday.
While the ordinance bans new rentals, existing ones can continue operating if, and it's a big if, they are following existing laws.
City Attorney Bob Anderson wanted to know how the city would inventory the rentals "so we know who gets to continue on and who is precluded?"
Planning consultant David Depew said those property owners who already meet current codes and statutory requirements would be excluded from the ban if they:
* paid their state tourist tax and county bed tax
* have a state license qualifying the property as a "resort dwelling"
* have been inspected by the fire marshal, and
* meet current Florida building codes that require things like additional pavement to accommodate additional cars, have hard-wired fire alarms and exit signs, and have appropriate evacuation safety signage installed.
"For someone with an existing rental, absent (those) approvals you are out of business," Depew said.
Mayor Ed Martin asked if that is a "taking." No, said Zelman.
"They were required to get those licenses under state law, which should have been in effect," Zelman said.
Existing short-term rental owners who are unable to prove they already have the necessary building and fire and safety inspections, or have not paid the appropriate state or county taxes, will be treated as noncompliant and unable to be participate later on in the amortization program that is currently under review.
Ban long term rentals?
Council Member Sue Lang was the lone dissenting vote, unhappy council shot down two major changes she authored.
Lang offered last-minute amendments from a sheet of paper she distributed to council members at the dais.
She sought to change certain definitions and expand the ordinance to limit rentals of longer than one month to no more than three times in a calendar year.
Council Member Kit McKeon said he was uncomfortable with the changes, which would redefine "resort dwelling" in a way that would not be consistent with the state's definition, and potentially could ban monthly rentals up to 12 times a year.
"If you want to rent for six months you should have that capability," McKeon said.
Lang said without the change, it guts the entire ordinance.
"Those homes will not have to go and get permitted, (will be) exempted out, and not be inspected," Lang said. Nor will they have to meet the building or safety codes, she said.
"The problem is it's very difficult to prove who is renting or has the intention of renting more than three times a year. It opens a loop hole you could drive a truck through," Lang said.
Council Member Vicki Noren Taylor agreed it will be difficult to monitor, but said that's also true under current state law.
She called for the question, forcing an end to debate, after two hours but was defeated in a procedural move that required a two-thirds vote. But the haggling continued and within five minutes Martin gave in called for the final vote.
By Greg Giles
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