With Marco Island’s Aug. 23 primary election less than a week away, tensions are higher than ever with local homeowners over a ballot referendum calling for a short-term rental registration ordinance.
If the ordinance passes next Tuesday, those who rent out their homes for less than 30 days more than three times a year will have to follow many new rules. Because about 25% of single-family homes are used as rentals on Marco, the outcome of the vote heavily weighs on the island community.
Although the city’s referendum is still pending, Marco Island has been hit with a lawsuit by five pro-rental homeowners. The lawsuit is based on potential damages that homeowners could experience if rentals are regulated by the 17-page ordinance.
David Di Pietro is the attorney representing the lawsuit, basing the case mainly on inverse condemnation. “[The city] took a property right that was without due process, and that was the right to freely rent their property,” Di Pietro said. “Now that’s been taken away and we think [homeowners] are entitled under Florida law for what damages may incur related to that taking.”
If the proposed ordinance passes, homeowners who want to rent out their property have to follow stricter rules compared to normal housing laws that relate to aspects such as noise levels, maximum occupancy limits and the requirement to register current guests within the household at all times to be submitted to the city.
There are multiple claims behind the lawsuit, one regarding misleading wording of the referendum appearing on the actual ballot.
“They call it a rental registration, but it’s actually a rental registration and regulation,” Di Pietro said. “And, second, in the actual text it says it’s going to regulate RSF. I didn’t even know what that meant until I went to the municipal code and figured out it meant residential single-family.”
Since there are other property designations and zonings on Marco Island besides residential single-family, there are concerns that voters in the ballot box that didn’t conduct independent research would be unaware of the properties affected since the definition of RSF is not defined.
Additionally, Florida statute states that a local ordinance may not prohibit vacation rentals or regulate the duration or frequency of rental. Di Pietro believes that this statute will prohibit having a rental, at least in the beginning due to the city needing to hire employees to do the required rental checks and registrations.
“Once this ordinance passes, until you receive the certificate from the city, which means you have to have an inspection from the fire department and the city, you can’t rent until that’s done,” Di Pietro said. “There are over 2,000 rentals and there’s nobody doing that job right now. So, we think that it’s going to be a ban for an indefinite amount of time.”
If the referendum does not pass, the case will be dropped. If the ordinance passes, an injunction will be filed against the city. However, Di Pietro sees hope for the future of the ordinance if it were to get passed. Both sides of the movement could come to a happy medium.
“I think there’s an effort to slow down the migration of people from Miami-Dade and Broward County vacationing [in Marco Island], it seems that that seems to be the dog whistle in the whole thing,” Di Pietro said. “But I think there could be something where you could have a rental registration program that doesn’t overregulate how everything is handled.”