Experience and success were the driving factors in the commission’s decision to hire a law firm to defend Wilton Manors in the vacation rental lawsuit filed against the city.
City Attorney Kerry Ezrol recommended Nabors Giblin & Nickerson because of the firm’s past success defending Flagler County against a lawsuit dealing with vacation rentals. In that case, the court ruled Flagler County could regulate vacation rental properties but only ones that started operations after the regulations were passed.
Ezrol said Nabors Giblin & Nickerson were slightly more expensive than other firms but Mayor Gary Resnick said the extra expense would be worth it. “Folks, you don’t really want to nickel and dime this.”
The lawsuit was filed in May by vacation rental owners Jeffery Hill and Roger France. They successfully sued the city several years ago over the same issue. In a previous commission meeting, Ezrol said the city lost because former Community Services director Wayne Thies tried to regulate vacation rentals by classifying them as transient rentals. A judge disagreed with the classification. This time, the city could have a stronger case because it passed regulations.
Hill and France say the city is charging too much and is trying to discriminate against vacation rental owners.
“The ordinance was drafted to discourage persons from renting properties for 30 days or less and to require personal information from those renters that is not required of renters for durations of more than 30 days,” reads the lawsuit. The cost of registering a vacation rental was also included in the lawsuit and labeled as excessive. In the lawsuit, the petitioners claimed the regulations would require the expenditure of $13,500 a year to register all their properties. The city requires each unit be registered for $750.
“Let there be no misunderstanding. We also want unlicensed rentals to either comply with the previous reasonable laws that we already have complied with or shut down, too. But adding requirements for those already obeying the law doesn’t stop those who are now and will continue to be illegal. Where is the equity in that?” wrote Hill and France in a letter to The Gazette on June 10.
The city approved the regulations earlier this year amidst calls by residents to take action. Some residents have said that irresponsible tourists are ruining the peace and quiet of their neighborhoods by having late night parties. Parking and trash problems are also among the complaints. Some vacation rental owners have responded that they are responsible in whom they rent to and shouldn’t be punished because of the irresponsible owners.
Commissioners responded to residents’ calls for action by saying they couldn’t pass regulations that were too stringent because it would put the city at risk for losing a lawsuit. “It’s a question of what your appetite for litigation is,” advised Ezrol at the time.