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Rental owners, residents air grievances over proposed short term rental ordinance

October 5, 2017
By JESSICA SALMOND ( , Fort Myers Beach Bulletin, Fort Myers Beach Observer

After proposed changes to the short term rental ordinance caused a flurry of concern, the Town of Fort Myers Beach held a public meeting Wednesday to talk it out with local residents, rental companies, and rental property owners.

The council chambers were filled with a variety of those concerned, and everyone got the chance to make their voice heard.

Most who spoke are not in favor of the changes to the ordinance.

"As property owners, we are completely against the proposed ordinance. You have the 2003 ordinance that allows you to enforce the code," said Amy Loughrey, co-owner of Distinctive Beach Rentals.

The proposed language suggests that a renter can get three strikes before the registration would be revoked by the town. Some of the renters pointed out that this kind of language could be problematic.

Jim Tekulue, an island resident and a rental owner, said the three-strikes could promote a bullying system, if some people didn't like a certain renter they could just ensure the renter's property got three strikes and lose business.

"For a hundred years this has been a shrimping town. It's not a quiet little village," he said. "The three strikes concerns me, couldn't that promote bullying? You can see it coming."

Town Manager Roger Hernstadt said the "three strikes" wasn't quite what the idea was; council members had discussed ideas about how to handle habitual violators at a planning session. One idea was that habitual violators could have their registration revoked, he said, but that idea has not been vetted by the town attorneys. He said he'd rather have habitual violators pay a higher registration fee.

Many of the concerns about short term rentals, from residents' standpoints, is often the noise made by the vacationers during quiet hours. Some people - renters included - weren't sure who should be called if noise gets too rowdy. Jim Lalor of the Lee County Sheriff's Office told the crowd that the deputies would respond to any noise complaint, and that any changes to the ordinance will not impact that response.

"We will provide the same service with or without this change," he said.

Beverly Milligan, representing the Estero Island Taxpayers Association, said her organization had not taken an official position because many of the interested parties felt there was not enough information yet to make a decision and a lack of hard data to back up the changes. She, and the rest of EITA, want more time.

"We'd like to see enforcement of the existing code and then do a gap analysis after a year," she said. "Maybe then we can see where there is a weakness. We need more time."

Council's proposed timeline for the revised ordinance was to have it developed by Oct. 31 and adopted a month later.

Other areas of Florida have attempted to tighten short term rental rules, and been sued. Anna Maria Island in Manatee County and Flagler County are both in court haggling over their changes; often, legislation on short term rentals can be deemed a violation of someone's property rights.

Rexann Hosafros, former attorney and former council member, said she'd done some research on Flagler County, which the town attorneys had cited as an example in a memo. But, she said, the county studied the regulations for a year, held a dozen public meetings, changed the ordinance and then had to change it again - and still landed itself in a $22.7 million lawsuit.

"I have no dog in this show. I don't own a rental and I'm not bothered by one," she said. "But someone is going to sue us, and Fort Myers Beach doesn't have the resources for this."

Doris Grant, a resident, came to speak about the residents' side. She lives near the downtown area, and she said she's surrounded by rentals on either side and across from the canal. The code of conduct, to which all vacation rental tenants are supposed to adhere, is often not followed, she said.

"Some of these homes are rented by private property owners, not companies," she said. "There can be 20 kids in one unit. I find that to be a safety issue."

Grant said she wants to see the name and phone number of the property owner posted on the outside of the building so if something is going wrong, she knows who to call. She also thinks the building should have posted how many people can occupy the unit, and that a list of rentals should be available at Town Hall for residents to see.

Hernstadt ended the meeting with a summary of the comments he'd heard. But while everyone said they wanted enforcement, the town has two code enforcement officers, he said.

He also said if the rental owners wanted the code enforced, then they should all be registered already as the code currently says there is supposed to be a registry. However, Community Development Director Kara Stewart said in a previous town council meeting that while a registry was supposed to exist, the town has never set up the program.

"If everybody was responsible, we wouldn't be here talking about this," Hernstadt said. "There is someone out there that created this problem, so let's help those people act responsibly."

Hernstadt said the timeline everyone was concerned about was what the council had expressed as its objective, and he would go as quickly or slowly on any ordinance as they directed.

"This was a rough draft, trying to put the words on paper," he said. "I would guess they will have a Management and Planning session to discuss the comments they received and decide what to do next."



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