Increasing number of illegal home rentals in neighborhoods sparks Siesta Key Association plea for residents to help county Code Enforcement officer

Director Joe Volpe details problems and offers advice about how people can assist with reducing violations

People gather at Siesta Public Beach for sunset on Feb. 21. Since the beach first was named No. 1 on the 2011 Top 10 U.S. beaches list published by ‘Dr. Beach,’ Siesta Key has seen continued growth in tourism. File photo

As the popularity of Siesta Key’s beaches has grown, so has the number of illegal rentals in neighborhoods zoned for single-family housing.

With only one Sarasota County Code Enforcement officer working on the barrier island, the Siesta Key Association (SKA) is asking its members to provide their assistance in an effort to improve the situation.

“I’ve been working closely with Susan Stahley,” SKA Director Joe Volpe told about 20 members during the nonprofit’s regular meeting on Aug. 2, referring to the Code Enforcement officer. “It’s really gotten out of control,” he added of illegal rentals of houses in neighborhoods such as his.

“The house across from me gets rented every week, sometimes for three days [only],” Volpe noted. Yet, the county Zoning Code allows only one rental of a house every 30 days in an area zoned Residential Single Family (RSF), he pointed out.

SKA Director Joe Volpe addresses members on Feb. 1. Rachel Hackney photo

Volpe had printed copies of sections of the Zoning Code, so SKA members could see the exact language to which he was referring. Appendix A., Section 5.2.3(i) of the code says, “Dwelling units may be rented as a whole and for periods of greater than 30 days provided that a dwelling unit shall not be rented more than once every 30 days.”

That applies countywide to several zoning districts, Volpe’s flyer noted, from Open Use Agricultural (OUE) to Open Use Estate (OUE) to Residential Manufactured Home (RMH), among them.

Second, that section continues, “Portions of a dwelling may be rented for periods of greater than 30 days provided that the dwelling is physically occupied by the owner during more than 50 percent of the lease term and the dwelling unit is not rented more than once every 30 days. ‘Owner’ shall include any individual owning an interest in the dwelling as an individual and any individual owning a majority of the interests or shares of a corporation, partnership, or other business entity.”

Subsection (v) of that part of the code adds, “Any attempt made to solicit, advertise, or commit the act of leasing a rental in a manner inconsistent with the provisions of this section shall constitute a violation.”

Stahley’s predecessor as the Code Enforcement officer on Siesta Key — John Lally — often addressed the illegal rentals issue, too, when he routinely appeared before SKA members.

In early November 2013, for example, Lally said, “This summer was the worst summer we’ve had” for illegal rentals on the island. The case level, he added, “continues to grow and grow, and there’s only one of me, so I get to as many [violators] as I can.”

The only leeway the county allows with the 30-day stipulation, Lally explained, is that a person may rent a house for the last week of a month and then again for the first week of the next month.

During the Aug. 2 SKA meeting, Volpe noted that Stahley, like Lally, “[has] been overburdened.”

Volpe did explain that the County Commission in July 2017 approved an amendment to the county ordinance governing short-term rentals in an effort to help Code Enforcement staff. That amendment prohibits attempts by property owners in the applicable zoning districts to arrange for rentals more often than the code allows.

Code Enforcement Officer John Lally — who retired several years ago — addresses SKA members in May 2013. File photo

The amendment says, “Any attempt made to solicit, advertise, or commit the act of leasing a rental in a manner inconsistent with the provisions of this [Zoning Code] section [Residential Use Categories] shall constitute a violation.”

Therefore, Volpe said, owners cannot advertise daily or weekly rental fees for their homes in the zoning districts stipulated in the code. “You can rent for a day,” he added, but then the same house cannot be rented again for another 30 days “from the time that last renter leaves.”

During a June 2014 appearance at an SKA meeting, Lally, the former Code Enforcement officer, explained that violations of the code can lead to fines up to $500 a day. Ultimately, if a person persists with illegal rentals, county staff has explained, a case can end up in the 12th Judicial Circuit Court, with liens attached to properties.

The health concerns

Volpe and his wife have dealt not only with increased traffic in the Treasure Boat Way neighborhood where they live, he said, but they also have found the trash situation to be of great concern. Renters typically leave on a Friday or a Saturday, he continued. That means garbage placed by the curbside will not be picked up until Waste Management crews make their rounds on the Key the following Wednesday. The trash draws flies and rats, he pointed out; he and his wife have observed accumulations of maggots, too.

Moreover, Volpe explained, “It’s against the rules to put out the trash more than 24 hours [before the collection day]. You can put it out the night before.”

The information sheet Volpe provided for members says, “Containers/items may be placed at the curb beginning at 5 p.m. the day before collection and should be curbside by 6 a.m. on your collection day.” It adds, “Empty containers should be brought in from the curb by 10 a.m. on the day following collection [emphasis in the document].”

As he headed over to St. Boniface Episcopal Church for the 4:30 p.m. start of the SKA meeting that Thursday, Volpe told the audience, the garbage cans still were standing at the curbside of the house across from his home. He and his wife have seen people come and go often from that house, he added.

Tracking the illegal rentals

This is among the photos Airbnb includes from ‘North Bridge Cottage’ in its Siesta Key listings. Image from Airbnb

The internet has proven a boon to people interested in renting out houses in neighborhoods, Volpe noted. However, the accommodations company Airbnb, for example, does not list the addresses of specific properties, he pointed out. What is very helpful to Code Enforcement Officer Stahley is for people in neighborhoods who suspect a property owner of illegal rentals to be able to match information on Airbnb and other internet sites — such as VRBO — with those houses, Volpe said. Residents can send Stahley the internet links, he added, with the addresses. “Then she takes over and does her job.”

When The Sarasota News Leader searched Airbnb this week, it found a wide array of properties for rent on Siesta Key. Among them is “North Bridge Siesta Cottage.” The listing says the house was built in 1926 and “is in a Historic Neighborhood” that is only a 10-minute car ride or a 25-minute bike ride “from the #1 Rated Siesta Key Beach and a short stroll to popular eateries and shopping areas.”
The listing notes that the cottage has one bed and one bath, and it rents for $67 per night.

Another listing is for “Charming Apt. in old Florida home,” which rents for $45 per night. That listing says the apartment is “in a historic 1920’s home … just a few miles to the beach and downtown.” It can accommodate four guests, with one bedroom, two beds and one bath, the listing notes.

The Airbnb website includes this among photos showing the ‘Charming Apt.’ Image from Airbnb under Siesta Key listings

Dealing with uncertainties

During the SKA meeting, Volpe also talked of the disruptions full-time residents face when their neighbors rent out homes illegally — loud partying late into the night; speeding on the streets; and tenants’ rudeness.

On one occasion, Volpe said, he complained to the real estate agent who handled a transaction for a house in his neighborhood, because late-night revelry was especially intense. Although the agent told him she thought all the people staying there were members of a family, he added, he characterized the activities he saw and heard as “a fraternity party.”

In other cases, he continued, residents have wondered whether break-ins have occurred, when they have seen unfamiliar vehicles show up at houses. “We don’t know whether they just snuck into the house illegally.”

Another time, he noted, it appeared that a crew working for a housecleaning company — as evidenced by the information on the vehicle the people used — apparently had invited friends over to have a party at a home near his.

“We have rules,” he said. “The rules should be followed.” The routine refusal to abide by the County Code “devalues our house. We, like you do, live in a nice residential area,” he told the audience members.