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Landlord asks court to block $500 fines on vacation rentals

STORY BY MEG LAUGHLIN (Week of June 11, 2015)

The owner of a home being advertised for vacation rentals in Central Beach squared off in court last week against the City of Vero Beach, seeking to stop police and code enforcers from handing out $500 tickets to landlords renting out homes for fewer than 30 days.

The attorney for Chuck Fitz, who rents out three homes in Central Beach for periods ranging on average from a week to a month, asked Judge Cynthia Cox to grant an injunction stopping the citations because, he said, the local code forbidding rentals of under a month is “pre-empted by state law.”     

Attorney Johnathan Rhodeback told the Court that a 2011 city ordinance forbidding transient rentals could not apply to rentals of under 30 days because the 30-day minimum was not in the code until 2015, meaning that owners of vacation rentals purchased before 2015 should be allowed to rent for under 30 days.

“The city would have you believe that the 30 days was always in existence, but there was no definition of transient before 2015,“ said Rhodeback.

Reading from Florida case law, the attorney told the Court, “The government cannot function in such an after-the-fact fashion.“

But attorney John Frost, representing the city, said the definition of transient renters existed prior to 2015.

“We believe that the definition of transient or temporary (meaning under 30 days) existed and what (Fitz) is doing is not allowed in a residential district,” said the attorney.

Frost cited from an earlier city code, which he said “restricted transient rentals and guest houses” except in commercial areas. 

He added: “The constant turnover is not in the best interest of the home owners in the area. The public interest is tilted more in favor of the residents of Vero Beach than (the short-term rental owners).”

But, again, Fitz’s attorney said that the sticking point was the new 30-day clarification, which was created after the date set by the Florida statute.  Transient or temporary could mean “five years,10 years, 30 days or 90 days or almost anything,” he said.

Dave Hunter, a Central Beach home owner who has been an outspoken foe of vacation home rentals for under 30, repeatedly saying that they destroy the basic fabric of neighborhoods, watched the proceedings, along with city mayor Dick Winger and Vice Mayor Jay Kramer.

“That our elected city officials are so keenly interested in this case indicates what an important issue this is to our city,” said Hunter.
By press time at the end of the day Monday, Cox had not ruled on the request for an injunction.