In last week’s column, I mentioned that the short-term rental task force was struggling to come up with new regulations that are any better than what is already on the books. One alert reader picked up on my statement, “I share their frustration because the answer is so obvious…” He wants to know what that obvious answer is. It’s right there in the city’s own website.
Simply go to www.cityofdestin.com. Enter “short term rental application” in the search engine. Registration terms and conditions are covered on pages 1-4 with existing regulations covered on pages 5-9. We don’t need to re-invent the wheel.
Note that these nine pages are clear, concise and comprehensive. They could be the work of a legal scholar or a language professor. It’s that good. All these regulations are easily enforceable. The only problem is that some of them, (the most important ones) have never been enforced by the city. Even the very best of regulations will never work if they are never enforced.
These nine pages address all four issues associated with single-family short-term rentals: Registration, litter, parking and noise. The word “occupancy” is never mentioned. And for good reason. Government can enforce registration, litter, parking and noise. Government can also enforce occupancy in public places such as restaurants, bars, theaters and other public gathering places.
But there is a pesky little thing called the Fourth Amendment to the U. S. Constitution that gets in government’s way when it tries to intrude into a private home, even a rental home:
“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, papers, and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
That means that government is required to obtain a probable cause warrant before conducting a head count or bed check in any home, including a rental home. Occupancy limits and enforcement are the sole responsibility of the designated Responsible Party, which is defined as the owner or the owner’s agent. That’s why occupancy is not mentioned in existing regulations.
Here is a simplified description of what is already on the books: Registration is required, no illegal parking, no littering and no excessive noise. Multiple violations and/or unpaid fines will result in a lien against the owner’s property.
The dedicated, unpaid volunteers on the short-term rental task force are working hard every week struggling to come up with something better than what we already have. We appreciate their effort. However, I suggest they look first into another revision, if necessary, to existing regulations. It would make their job a lot easier. They deserve it.
Jack Simpson has owned and managed rental properties in Destin since 1974 and has lived in the city since 1983. His column is designed to start conversations in the community. To respond to Jack’s column in The Log, email your letter to the editor or guest column to firstname.lastname@example.org. To contact Jack directly, email email@example.com.