Sheriff’s Office substation leader on Siesta Key offers advice to Siesta Key Association members about law enforcement documentation of  ‘hotel house’ problems

Commissioner Ziegler agrees to meet with SKA group to discuss vacation rentals of large homes

Although the address is not available until someone books a stay, The Sarasota News Leader found this home advertised on the Vrbo website as being able to sleep 16 persons. The listing touts its proximity to Siesta Public Beach and Siesta Village. Image from the Vrbo.com website

With the “hotel house” issue still a primary focus of the Siesta Key Association (SKA), the leader of the Sheriff’s Office substation on the island has offered some direction to assist with tracking problems reported at specific residences.

During the August SKA meeting, SKA Secretary Margaret Jean Cannon asked Sgt. Arik Smith whether the Sheriff’s Office has a means of categorizing complaints related to accommodations in single-family zoning districts that are rented to 12 or more people at a time. Such residences have become known as “hotel houses.”

“Not specifically, no,” Smith told her. With calls for service, Sheriff’s Office personnel note the type of incident, he explained, but not any details regarding a dwelling or a business.

Then Cannon asked whether the Sheriff’s Office could create a category for hotel houses. That would facilitate the SKA’s efforts to track incidents at such accommodations, Cannon pointed out.

SKA member Jann Webster also noted the difficulty of trying to identify problems associated with the hotel houses. She added that no coordinated effort seems to exist in documenting calls about complaints.

Smith promised to research the issue.

During the Sept. 9 SKA meeting, Smith had follow-up information for the members.

Sgt. Arik Smith listens to a question during the Dec. 5, 2019 Siesta Key Association meeting. File photo

“Unfortunately,” he said, “there’s just no way at the Sheriff’s Office … for us to track that type of residence.” However, he continued, a complainant can ask the responding deputy to make a note in the case file that the incident prompting the call to the Sheriff’s Office involved a hotel house. Then that note will become part of the permanent record for that specific call, Smith told the SKA members.

Moreover, he explained, anyone wishing to review all the calls associated with a specific residence can do so by filing a public records request. “We’ll give you all the calls.”

“I hope that makes sense,” he said.

“It does,” President Catherine Luckner responded.

Luckner then asked about county Code Enforcement officers documenting concerns when it appears that a specific dwelling is being rented illegally, for example, or that visitors staying in the house are producing excessive noise.

“I think that would be most appropriate,” Smith replied.

Yet, Cannon pointed out that Code Enforcement officers are not on the Key at night, when incidents typically occur.

Referencing Smith’s earlier comments, Cannon suggested, “We just have to get a little better about the communication between [the Sheriff’s Office and the Code Enforcement Division].”

Smith told her he is unsure how Code Enforcement staff handles recordkeeping. However, he added, he would venture to say that the system is similar to the one the Sheriff’s Office uses.

Kouba, the SKA vice president, noted that Code Enforcement staff generally is at work on the island between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. on weekdays. “Any issues that involve excessive noise, possibly illegal parking” or altercations among people staying in a hotel house that occur outside those hours necessitate a call to the Sheriff’s Office.

Nonetheless, Kouba said, “Code Enforcement does record calls by addresses also.”

This portion of Section 124-305 of the county’s Unified Development Code explains ‘transient accommodations’ and the limitations on vacation rentals. The Unified Development Code contains all of the county’s land-use and zoning regulations. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Victoria Varela, who has talked at length about illegal rentals of a house owned by one of her neighbors, did note that Code Enforcement staff eliminates duplicate records, if officers receive more than one call about the same issue at a particular house.

Varela also talked of having gone to the Sheriff’s Office to get public records and not finding that all the calls she believed had been made about a particular hotel house had been documented.

“That would be news to me,” Smith replied. According to the state Sunshine Laws, he explained, the Sheriff’s Office is required to keep records of calls for years, especially those made to 911 Dispatch. “There may not necessarily be a full field report associated with [a] call,” he pointed out, “but anytime we go [to a location], it should be recorded.”

For example, Smith explained, if a deputy handles a call about a noise disturbance — even if a homeowner just wants an officer to tell the people at the location to turn the noise down — the responding deputy documents that information in the case file. Then, anyone should be able to get a copy of that report, he said.

‘The disturbance factor’

This is a copy of a document Margaret Jean Cannon gave to the county commissioners in February 2019, as she discussed problems she had encountered with ‘hotel houses’ accommodating 20 or more guests on Siesta Key. Image courtesy of the Siesta Key Association

Luckner emphasized that one of the primary concerns for the SKA is what she called “the disturbance factor” at homes rented illegally for short-term vacation periods in single-family neighborhoods. Residents worry about their safety and security, she said.

The county regulations regarding vacation accommodations prohibit the rental of any dwelling in a neighborhood zoned Residential Single-Family more often than every 30 days.

“Whenever people aren’t properly registered as renters,” Luckner said, “you often have a little more mayhem with those houses …”

Airbnb has rules that its hosts must follow, she pointed out, but the company relies on public complaints to determine whether those rules are being violated.

“If you have a problem with the hotel houses, if you have a problem with anything” Smith told the SKA members, “we are here 24/7, 365 days a year.” Please call the Sheriff’s Office, he added. “We are here to help, and we want to help, to help provide the best community service that we can for the great community that Siesta Key is.”

Commissioner Christian Ziegler. File image

“Whether it’s noise, whether it’s an argument,” or something suspicious is occurring, he continued, “We will respond out there …”

Later during the meeting, with County Commissioner Christian Ziegler as a guest, SKA Vice President Kouba asked whether the SKA group dealing with the hotel house issue could meet with him.

“Yeah, we can talk about that,” Ziegler replied. “I’ll come out to the Key.”

He advised Kouba to contact his assistant on county staff to arrange the date and time.

Kouba explained that the group comprises four people who “have been … trying to figure out where to go and what to do” in an effort to handle the problem in the best way possible.

“We’ll see what we can do about it,” Ziegler said.

“Thank you so much,” Kouba replied.

1 thought on “Sheriff’s Office substation leader on Siesta Key offers advice to Siesta Key Association members about law enforcement documentation of  ‘hotel house’ problems”

  1. Thank you for bringing visibility to this aggravating trend. It has become incredibly lucrative for developers to build or renovate ”hotel houses” that sleep up to 24 people, often renting them 4 times each month (illegal). Hotel houses are frequently owned by LLC’s, and they essentially operate as businesses within a residential neighborhood (illegal). Guests are advised to claim they are “friends of family“ in order to avoid attention from code officials. Some guests admit they were offered cash incentives to become “family friends“ and pay cash, which leads one to speculate that developers are avoiding payment of County bed taxes through this rogue arrangement (illegal). Does anyone think that the IRS is collecting tax on these incredible rental incomes… I doubt it.

    Currently, there is no coordinated method to track records or fine/prosecute the owner. In addition, meager County fines are simply an irritant to the Landlord… compare a $500 fine versus $5000 weekly rent. With easy money pouring in and no deterrents in place, “hotel houses” are poised to take over rental trade on Siesta Key!

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