DESTIN — An 800-square-foot condo one mile from the city limits sleeps 99 people.
A 14-bedroom house farther away sleeps 54. And many multi-bedroom homes or “mini-hotels” in Destin each sleep dozens, City Councilwoman Prebble Ramswell said at Monday’s council workshop on proposed regulations of short-term vacation rentals.
Those and other descriptions of such rental units by Ramswell elicited audible gasps from the audience gathered in the council chambers.
“Could these be errors?” Ramswell wrote on one of her PowerPoint presentation pages that contained such properties. “No. Apparently they are meant to show no limit.”
A hotel, according to the city’s land development code, is a structure that sleeps 25 or more people.
Citing haphazard parking, strewn trash, renters who don’t respect full-time Destin residents, and other issues, the council agreed Monday to move forward with a batch of potential new regulations on the owners of short-term vacation rentals.
City staff continues to work to get the owners of such rentals registered with the city.
The number that has been registered skyrocketed from a little more than 700 in early May to a current total of about 1,600.
A short-term rental is defined as any occupancy of a single-family dwelling unit from one day to no more than six months. Condominiums and apartments do not have to be registered as short-term rentals with the city. The cost of each registration is $200.
The main, lingering problem with such rentals is occupancy, according to city officials.
“Occupancy is out of control,” said Bruce Craul, who is one of the seven members of the city’s advisory short-term rental stakeholder task force.
Craul said that in wake of the 2008 economic recession, many single-family homes in Destin and elsewhere were bought by investment buyers who converted the houses into mini-hotels. Such conversions have included putting bunk beds in closets and hallways.
Craul cited a four-bedroom house in Destin that used to sleep 10 people, but now sleeps 30.
“The more people you can sleep, the more you can charge,” he said.
After hearing from about a dozen residents — including several task force members and representatives of Airbnb and HomeAway — the council agreed to move forward on a potential occupancy limit of two persons per bedroom plus two additional persons at each short-term rental.
The council plans to have more discussion on the issue, including the ages of such occupants, before granting final approval at a regular council meeting.
The council on Monday also agreed to move ahead with making several other task force recommendations part of city law.
They include requiring the posting of a sign that contains the number of allowed parking spaces at each short-term rental property; prohibiting such properties, with some exceptions, from being used as wedding/commercial venues in residential neighborhoods; prohibiting short-term rental property owners/management companies and agents from advertising commercial activities or events on the property; and requiring annual inspections to ensure compliance with the Florida building code and life-safety requirements.
Violators of any of the proposed rules would face possible fines.
Something clearly needs to be done to address the various problems that stem from many of the rentals, several people at the workshop said.
Task force member and Holiday Isle resident Guy Tadlock said the “negative trend” of problematic short-term rentals is destroying Destin’s heritage and way of life.
Another resident complained about short-term renters who have hosted loud parties near his home.
He recalled several spring breakers jumping from an upper floor of a house into a pool, and corn hole players “squealing like a wounded pig” when they get the beanbag into the hole.
When asked to tone it down, one of the renters said, “You should not be bothering us because we’re on vacation,” according to the resident.
Several people said the city should focus on enforcing its existing rules on short-term rentals and not punish law-abiding property owners with new regulations.
“It’s not a rules problem, it’s a management problem,” task force member and vacation rental company owner Rick Scali said.
But Mayor Gary Jarvis said the council hopes to create an ordinance “to restore some sanity to our communities.”
Craul emphasized that Destin loves its visitors.
“This is not about turning our backs on our owners and guests,” he said of the proposed rules. “This is about marketing to the people we want, which may not be the ones that we have.”
Other regulations have already received the council’s tentative approval.
On June 4 the council approved the first reading of an ordinance that requires each owner of a short-term rental property to register with the city and appoint a person to serve as the “responsible party” for the property.
Fines or liens could be imposed against a property owner or property for failing to register.
Among other requirements, the ordinance also calls for the posting of a sign outside of a residence that clearly identifies the management company responsible for the property and the phone number of the responsible party.
The ordinance also prohibits trash containers from being placed at the curb before noon of the day before pickup, and requires the containers to be removed before midnight of the day of pickup.