The slow march to reign in vacation rentals has begun.

Long a thorny issue for public officials to navigate, Wilton Manors has taken steps to identify vacation rentals operating in the city. At the May 11 commission meeting, Kim Holinko, acting code compliance supervisor, gave a presentation on the department’s regulatory efforts.

Holinko said the city’s software program examined 359 properties and of that number 152 properties were not operating as a vacation rental. Holinko said 207 properties required further research while 76 properties were licensed with the city and 43 properties were registered as long-term rentals.

Four properties were multi-family/business dwellings.

On May 5, three properties were cited by a special magistrate for not registering as vacation rentals. Holinko said 75 properties remain under investigation and notices have been sent to the owners. Owners have 30 days to comply or contest once put on notice by the city.

If the owners live at the vacation rental property, no registration with the city is required. That was found in six instances, said Holinko. 

Holinko said 21 properties have been licensed as vacation rentals bringing the city’s total to 97, a 28% increase in compliance since outreach efforts began.

Holinko described her efforts as very labor-intensive as the department is short of two employees.

Mayor Scott Newton advocated bringing in a representative from Broward County Property Appraiser Marty Kiar’s office to shed light on the topic, particularly when it comes to homesteaded properties.

“I think a lot of people don’t understand what you can or cannot do when you homestead your home,” Newton said.

Commissioner Gary Resnick suggested the city send its vacation rentals list to Kiar’s office to continue the investigation as required by the state constitution. 

Police Chief Gary Blocker said 13 applications are in the department’s queue, which increases compliance to 43%.

The big knock on vacation rentals is the impact on the quality of life for full-time residents. Commissioner Chris Caputo said it's a few bad apples spoiling the party. To mitigate those bad apples, Blocker proposed training on noise ordinances and parking regulations with proper routing of road reports from officers in the field. 

Blocker said complaints are often anonymous and it is important for those negatively impacted to give their contact information to officers for a follow-up investigation. 

“It’s beneficial to our investigation if they ask for the officers to contact them so we can interview them and see how these VHR operations at these homes are negatively impacting their quality of life and a lot of times their testimony is key to fulfilling the elements of an ordinance violation,” Blocker said.

Blocker said anonymous reports can spur action on capacity limits and parking violations, but if it’s a matter of a loud party, then witnesses must give their name to code compliance officers. 

Peter Nasca is one resident who has consistently complained about vacation rentals in his neighborhood. Nasca has said the issue could potentially turn Wilton Manors into an “upscale flop house” and proposes limiting stays for vacation rentals.

“My wife, son and I have lived in Wilton Manors for almost 13 years,” Nasca wrote in a letter to the Gazette. “We love it here but this vacation [party] rental issue is out of control. I realize that the city has limited control over the issue but something needs to be done. We don’t oppose vacation rentals, but they need to have a minimum stay requirement like in the Keys.”

Blocker said since January 2020, police received 157 calls for service at vacation home properties with half involving a disturbance. That’s roughly 13 noise complaints per month. 

The Gazette reached out for data from Airbnb, one of the travel industry’s leading vacation rentals companies, for more information. Samuel Randall, public affairs spokesman for Airbnb, referenced the company’s guidelines for hosting but declined to share data on the number of Airbnb hosts in Wilton Manors. 

Wilton Manors resident Marc Martorana warned cracking down on vacation rentals would have negative revenue consequences for the city.

“If these tourism rentals chose to leave our city, taxes for year-round homeowners would skyrocket and be unaffordable for many of our residents,” Martorana said.

Florida Representative Bobby DuBose has seen the vacation rentals controversy play out before.

“It was an issue when I was on the Fort Lauderdale Commission,” said DuBose, who represents District 94 in Tallahassee, which includes the westside of Wilton Manors. “Fort Lauderdale is the Venice of America so the marine industry has short-term rentals. It’s one of those things, I come from the local government, I believe in home rule but I’m not going to say, hey it’s all or nothing because when I come up here in a session sometimes the places I can find are short-term rentals.”

Bills in both the House and Senate to give the state greater control over vacation rentals died in committees this past session. The bills were largely seen as preemptions of local authority.

“I understand the desire for them, but we have to make sure we keep all the stakeholders at the table, hopefully moving forward it can pick up where they left off and really get something across the finish line,” DuBose said. “I get it people arguing about the quality of life. I’m a home rule guy. It’s not an easy thing. Next session, the issue will still be here.”

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Home Rule Rights On Wilton Manors Agenda