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Amid complaints, stiffer penalties possible on vacation rentals

STORY BY CASEY STAVENHAGEN (Week of June 29, 2023)

Under a plan being drafted by the new County Administrator John Titkanich, county code enforcement would impose stiffer penalties on owners of short-term island rentals in the unincorporated county at the north and south ends of the barrier island.

The move comes in response to a stream of calls to county officials about revelers who rent residential homes for a week or weekend getaway violating county parking and noise ordinances, and keeping their neighbors awake at night.

The decision to move forward with a new schedule of fines passed 4-1, with Board Chair Joe Earman dissenting. Before approving any changes to code enforcement, a public hearing will be held and the motion must be approved via super majority.

A list of updated fees will be included when the item comes back to the board as exact dollar amounts have not yet been determined, Titkanich said.

“The intent is not to be punitive … The level of income derived from these properties is pretty significant and making sure the fine is commensurate with that to prevent bad-faith actors from not regulating their properties,” Titkanich said. “The real intent is to protect the quality of life of our residents in our community.”

Interim Community Development Director Andy Sobczak said Indian River County has around 200 vacation rentals licensed throughout the county. Indian River Shores has its own vacation rental regulations and enforcement, and the City of Vero Beach shifted its code enforcement operations to the Vero Beach Police Department when vacation rentals began causing a ruckus in residential neighborhoods within the city limits.

“If we’re looking at violations or complaints specifically to short-term vacation rentals, by comparison, those are, in fact, lower than non-short-term vacation rentals,” Sobczak said. “There are certain short-term vacation rentals out there that are kind of repeat offenders with some of the issues like parking too many cars or making too much noise. Overall, the volume of complaints is not too high but we do have some problem properties.”

However, one problem facing enforcement of violations is a lack of on-call code enforcement officers. Currently, the county relies upon reports from the Sheriff’s Office to verify code violations if they occur on weekend nights. County Commissioner Joseph Flescher said the scenario regarding repeat offenders may change if a code enforcement officer was able to appear on scene in response to complaints.

“When people are fined … and that fine is substantial, some will still violate and some will comply and do a better job,” Flescher said. “No matter what the fine is, it still happens. Fines are a form of education but they also hit the pockets.”

Alongside the draft ordinance, county staff will investigate additional possibilities for on-call code enforcement officers or a dedicated evening and weekend officer to handle vacation rentals  – hoping they may better quell complaints from neighbors.

And while it’s easy to envision the offenses all stemming from island destination Airbnb’s, the rentals are spread all around the county.