Sarasota raises fees for short-term rental owners
Written by WSLR News on Saturday, September 16, 2023
The move is a prelude to expanding regulations citywide from the barrier islands.
By Ramon Lopez
Original Air Date: Sept. 15, 2023
Host: The mushrooming of short-term rentals is boosting rents in an already unaffordable market. Ever-changing neighbors, noise, and construction of “hotel houses” in residential areas adds to the anxiety. The state of Florida keeps close tabs on any restrictions to property owners. So what’s a city to do? As a prelude to possibly bigger things to come, the City of Sarasota raised the fees property owners have to pay if they operate a vacation rental on the barrier islands. WSLR News reporter Ramon Lopez has the story.
Ramon Lopez: By a vote of five to one, the Sarasota City Commission raised the fees paid by vacation rental house owners to operate. The higher fees currently apply only to about 130 vacation rentals on the barrier islands.
But the city of Sarasota is considering making its vacation rental regulations apply to the entire city, potentially affecting as many as 700 or so vacation rental properties.
Many Sarasota residents mad about the growth of short-term rentals in their mainland neighborhoods favor expansion of the regulation, city-wide. And that far-reaching rule change will be debated at a future commission meeting, yet to be scheduled.
The City Commission created an ordinance in 2021 that requires the owners of vacation rentals on barrier islands to register with the city. The owners paid a $250 application fee and a biennial renewal fee of $150. The properties must be inspected every other year. The owner must have someone available by phone 24 hours a day to respond to complaints.
But the City Commission decided that the original fees did not cover the actual cost of running the program.
It increased the initial application fee to $500. The renewal fee is now $350, and will be assessed every year.
Inspections will now take place annually. The inspection fees went up as well, as did some other fees.
Vice Mayor Liz Alpert asked for the rationale for annual inspections. City workers said they are needed to monitor illegal work undertaken after the inspections. They would also include various new inspections.
Flo Entler, president of the Arlington Park Neighborhood Association, backs the higher fees and more frequent inspections, and wants to see the program go city-wide.
Flo Entler: The city should be making money on these. These are commercial businesses being run in our single-family residential neighborhoods. The neighborhoods have been asking for this ordinance to go citywide for years. We need it now, as the peaceful enjoyment of our homes has been compromised for years by commercial businesses being run in residential, single-family neighborhoods. The Arlington Park Neighborhood is asking the city take this citywide, and we are also asking that you increase the fees and fines, and that the safety of the neighborhoods is being taken care of, and that the citizens’ concerns are being put ahead of commercial entities. These are commercial entities in single-family neighborhoods.
R.L.: Commissioner Jen Ahearn-Koch also backed the fee hikes and expansion of the program throughout the city.
Jen Ahearn-Koch: Just from my point of view, from what I hear from the residents in not only the barrier islands, but also the rest of the city. I know this is just about the barrier islands for the moment, but can’t unlink these two discussions because they they are linked. That’s where I’m hoping we take this citywide eventually. I don’t know if that will defray the cost in any way shape or form, but the neighborhoods are bearing the impact of these commercial activities. They should not have to bear the physical cost of having to administer a program. So I don’t know if we do this in reverse and go citywide and then figure out our fee. But I don’t think the citizens should have to bear the cost of this at all. I just don’t, and I would be in favor of making sure the program pays for itself. We’re not here to make any money. I would be in favor of having the vacation rental program pay for itself.
R.L.: But Max Brandow, with the Realtor Association of Sarasota and Manatee, is concerned with some of the ordinance changes.
Max Brandow: This ordinance talks about inspections, and it cuts the life of the certificate in half. The city shows no evidence or rationale on why the certificate period has been cut in half. The fees are one thing, but you’re doubling the fees, while cutting the certificate in half, and the same thing goes for the inspections. Throughout the whole process, we’ve heard complaints from neighbors about parking, trash, parties, and noise. But inspecting a property doesn’t address any of those. So there’s been no explanation about why we’re going from a two-year inspection period to a one-year inspection period. There’s nothing inherently dangerous about vacation rentals. The city’s provided no data, no background on why vacation rentals are inherently more dangerous. It begs the question about why we’re doing it. And then, on the fees, it’s odd because in one breath, the city says, ‘Well, to cover our current costs, we have to raise fees’. Okay, that’s fair. But then, why are you adding to your cost with the additional certificate period, with the additional inspections? That’s inherently going to add more cost for the city. So, does the city need more money to cover its current costs, or future costs? I don’t know. It’s hard to make sense of it.
R.L.: Commissioner Erik Arroyo cast the one nay vote. He questioned management of the fee program and its application.
Erik Arroyo: If we want to go further out into space, we don’t have to build a larger rocket with more firepower. We can also build a lighter rocket. What I’m hearing is that we’re spending too much on this. So let’s charge more and they’re making money so we can just charge more because the money is there.
We’ve all met many of the neighbors and the organizations, even some of these vacation rental companies. And that should be something they’re allowed to do – a young family who needs some supplemental income. That is the vast majority of people that do this. They’re not the big conglomerates. They need that supplemental income in order to afford living these days. The companies that have the hotel houses, that have it all built out with the pool in the middle, they do not care about this, they don’t care. They want you to jack it up. They want you to prevent all these Airbnbs from existing because that’s just more business for them. It’s kind of like creating this monopoly for them – make it impossible for everyone else, except for the individuals that have just a massive amount of them. There’s two or three companies that are doing it. So I just wanted everybody to know that what we’re doing is a disservice to the people that would use this as a supplemental income. We’re doing nothing about the people that manage these mega Airbnb that are taking over Siesta Key and Bradenton Beach, and all these other places. The reality is, the people who are making the most money from this, they don’t care about these rates.
R.L.: Sarasota Mayor Kyle Battie weighed in on the debate. He said the higher fees won’t greatly affect local families trying to stay afloat. But he agreed with Arroyo to rein in the house hotel developers.
Kyle Battie: There are not a lot of families out there that are buying properties and then being able to rent them. It’s almost like having two houses. I don’t know a lot of young families that can afford one house, much less have another property that they can rent out to someone. I wish it was like that. But I just don’t see that. And I hear Commissioner Arroyo’s point as well about these huge conglomerates that that are running these huge hotel houses and are taking over residential areas out on the barrier islands, on Siesta Key.
R.L.: This is Ramon Lopez for WSLR News.