Saturday, November 27, 2021

Planning Board Drafts Rental Ordinance



By Pat Newman

A rental ordinance requiring property registration, a fire inspection and enforceable fines for violating city codes governing noise, parking and tardy trash can removal was drafted by Marco Island’s Planning Commission at its Nov. 21 meeting.

Following hours of public comment both for and against an ordinance regulating long- and short-term rentals, the board decided to use the city of Marathon’s ordinance as a model and proceeded to go section by section adding and deleting lines to make it Marco Island specific. Board Chairman Monte Lazarus deferred to members in the decision, calling the model ordinance “tangled-up.” Member William Trotter countered that the model is a “working ordinance” and it would be easier to use than starting from scratch. “We don’t want something that is unenforceable,” he stated.

The rough draft will now be edited by city staff and “compressed” and “simplified” as directed by the board. “We will make the changes in red-line fashion and get a clean version to council. It’s important to keep track of all the changes. We will do our best to make it clear and concise and not redundant,” Roger Hernstadt, Marco’s city manager, told the board. He is familiar with the Marathon ordinance as he was also a city manager in the Keys city.

The need for a rental ordinance has been debated by the planning board and city council for about six years. A spate of complaints from homeowners in single-family neighborhoods fed up with noise, random parking and trash cans left on the street for days over the last few months sparked another round of discussion.

A task force was formed and its members — mostly realtors — determined that the data provided by police records and code enforcement was not indicating a huge problem with noise and annoyances. Kelly Linman, a task force member, told the board that the reports showed that over the last three years, there were a “little over 800 incidents.”

However, data was severely lacking on repeat offenders and calls taken by the Collier County Sheriff’s Department, which takes Marco Island’s Police Department calls after 10 PM. The board realized that cross-referencing calls and matching complaints to the rental home owners was non-existent. The question of better enforcement of existing codes was discussed, but the call for registration of rentals was heard and answered. There will be an opt-out provision for condominium associations as these groups have rules in place that match or sometimes exceed the proposed city ordinance.

Prior to tearing into the Marathon ordinance, board member Charlette Roman presented a two-page memo addressing transient rentals. She was applauded by the board and audience for her recommendations. She listed the problems the city was trying to solve as follows: excessive noise disrupting the peace and quality of life of Marco’s residents, too many cars parked on the street and swales overnight, trash cans left out after the pick-up day, lack of information and follow-up and the fear of some residents reluctant to complain because of possible retribution, lack of knowledge on the tenant’s part and finally unresponsiveness on the tenant’s and owner’s part.

Roman claimed that the current codes are unable to handle these issues because they are either unenforceable, like the noise ordinance which requires decibel meters, or parking errantly without citation. She said it was difficult to collect fines from tenants who are transient, and no direction has been given to police or code enforcement on what to enforce.

Also, property owners — now legally responsible per the city code — are not always identifiable and not always able to resolve the problem quickly. Standardized documents explaining codes have not been made available to owners and tenants, she noted. Effectively addressing the problems should involve amending the noise and parking ordinances, directing the city manager to confer with the police department on establishing a database and integrating complaints from police and code enforcement.

The most important recommendation in Roman’s memo was the registration of rentals in single-family zoning districts. During the rough drafting of the ordinance, the board suggested a $250 initial registration fee with a $75 renewal fee every one or two years, as well as a $75 fire inspection fee for the purpose of “life safety” issues. Automatic sprinkler systems would not be required, but working smoke detectors and battery-operated back-up lighting would be mandated. Also an exit window in the bedroom would be inspected.

Roman said that the “old Deltona homes” may not comply with code. “It’s important for homeowners to know that it could be thousands of dollars needed to bring it (home used for rental) up to code.”

Right now, about 15 percent of Marco Island’s single-family homes are rentals, according to undocumented statistics. About 1600 homes are available for rent on websites such as VRBO (Vacation Rentals By Owner.)

Finally, the ordinance’s manner of handling complaints is still under discussion by staff and the board. The determination of what constitutes a major or minor infraction and how much the fine would be is not decided. Roman’s memo suggested that the first complaint called in would warrant a warning and explanation of the infraction. Second complaint would incur a fine to be determined, and a third complaint would cause revocation of the rental permit for a time to be determined. Fourth and final complaint would be the loss of rental rights. All rental properties would be required to have a brochure or packet outlining all the city regulations for renters and tenants and highlight the “good neighbor” policy.


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