Kathy Eil built her dream home on Marco Island four years ago. Little did she know when she and her husband chose the property it would be surrounded by short-term rentals on all sides of her house. Noise quickly became an issue.
“We ended up having to buy a noise machine and earplugs because all of our lanais are within 20 feet of each other,” Eil said. “Whatever [the renters] are doing, we hear it.”
Eil is one of many Marco Island residents who have voiced in favor of voting for a short-term rental registration program, a referendum that is appearing on the ballot of the primary general election at the end of August.
This referendum was written by political action committee Take Back Marco, a group established specifically to create the short-term rental registration ordinance.
If the ordinance passes, it will apply to those who rent out their homes for less than 30 days more than three times in a year. This will affect a large portion of the island as 25% of single-family homes are used as rentals.
Marco Island does not have any enforced laws specifically for short-term rentals, besides requirement to be registered with the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation. The proposed 16-page ordinance for Marco Island, which is almost an exact copy of the Fort Lauderdale rental registration ordinance, creates many new standards needed to operate a vacation rental.
“Residents of Marco Island got to the point where they said ‘Hey, we have to get these short-term rentals under control,’” Take Back Marco member and 24-year resident Ed Issler said. “We formed this committee to do some research and we found a good rental registration program that was implemented seven years ago in Fort Lauderdale.”
Under the proposed ordinance, the owner of the rental must complete a transient rental registration form and pay a registration fee. The fee has not yet been specified; however, the State of Florida is considering a maximum registration fee of $50 per year for all rental registrations. There will additionally be a program cost administration fee which will fund administrative staff hired to ensure compliance of the new ordinance’s numerous new rules.
Rentals will have stricter noise laws to abide by compared to full-time residences. No sound can be audible for over a minute 25 feet from the property line between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m., and at a distance of 50 feet from the property during the day.
“We just had an incident where people were all out on the neighbor’s lanai drunk and making a ton of noise, my husband went out and asked them to be quiet because our bedroom was right next to their lanai,” Eil said. “They did quiet down after about an hour, but you know, it’s not been pleasant.”
The new ordinance has maximum occupancy rules of no more than two people per bedroom in a home, with up to four children under the age of 13 total. No guests are allowed after 10 p.m.
“The only way to control the number of people that are using the beach, controlling the traffic, controlling the neighborhood parking is to limit the number of people that can stay in a house,” Issler said.
The referendum requires a register of all the current guests within the household at all times to be submitted to the City of Marco Island. The owner of the house must appoint someone that is able to respond to an issue on-site within one hour.
“You have to keep a log so that we know you don’t have any sex offenders, so we have the names of everybody that’s renting on your property, and we know the names of the people that are staying on Marco Island,” Issler said.
The first violation of any of the provisions is between $200 and $275, the second violation between $500 and $650, and the third between $1,000 and $1,300. The rental will start being suspended at the fourth violation.
Denis Hanks is the Executive Director of the Florida Alliance for Vacation Rentals, a nonprofit organization that assists cities in adopting local rental registration ordinances. Hanks was involved with Fort Lauderdale when its ordinance was created in 2015, where compliance is now an ongoing issue.
“There are a lot of vacation rentals in Fort Lauderdale that continue to not operate in their registration system,” Hanks said. “They come and go, they put them on the market and off the market.”
Marco Island’s City Attorney Alan Gabriel addressed Take Back Marco’s referendum last month with a list of 19 areas of legal concern. Some of these potential issues stated include the requirement for vacation rental owners to obtain a minimum of $1 million in liability insurance coverage, the requirement to obtain an annual fire inspection for a single-family home and suspension time frames being against state law. According to Gabriel’s statement, noise regulations that are more restrictive than regulations for rest of the city could be a potential violation of the First Amendment.
“Why move forward with something that you know you’re going to be sued over or you’re going to have a lot of litigation that’s going to cost the taxpayers money,” Hanks said. “It seems kind of crazy.”
Marco Island homeowners like Rob Ferrarie rent out their home when on vacation to pay off the mortgage and for renovations. Ferrarie has been renting out his house for 13 years but will stop if this ordinance gets passed.
“When I moved here in 2009, the real estate agent told me all about rentals and I thought it was a great idea, this has been around for a long time,” Ferrarie said. “What they’re trying to do is eliminate something that’s been here forever and it’s wrong.”
Ferrarie rents out through Vrbo which has its own safety standards in place.
“When I rent to these people, I have all their information, I can look them up and see who’s coming into my house,” Ferrarie said. “We care very much if our house gets wrecked more than we care about anything else. It’s the natural law of me caring about my home that makes Marco safe.”
Jim Chamberlin and his two sons own Marco Island Bike Rentals. He knows if this ordinance gets passed, he will go out of business since the vast majority of his clientele are people renting a home.
“It wouldn’t be worth it, we would literally move to where there is a business-friendly place to do something else,” Chamberlin said.
Chamberlin sees the potential impact of all local business on the island if this ordinance discourages renters from continuing their services.
“There’s the trickle-down effect, when we pick up people we’re delivering them to the local restaurants and shops,” Chamberlin said. “Last night we picked up 98 people and not one of them was at a resort or hotel.”
For residents like Eil, there is hope that this referendum will stray away at least the nightly rentals.
“The people who really want to come here with their families, they’re going to come for a week,” Eil said. “They’re not going to come for a night. It’s the spring breakers, it’s the people from the other side of Florida that come over for one night and leak garbage all over the beach and then leave.”
Chamberlin thinks this issue is something the residents of Marco can come together to fix without a ballot vote.
“Unfortunately, there’s probably some poorly run vacation rentals that sour it for a few but it’s not a huge problem, it’s a very isolated one, but it is an issue” Chamberlin said. “I think if everyone worked together and resolve that issue, we wouldn’t have a problem. Everybody that came to this island came here on vacation and some people never left, that’s why people live here.”