“It’s getting out of hand. We can’t deal with it if we don’t know about it.”
This content is being provided for free as a public service to our readers during the coronavirus outbreak. Please support local journalism by subscribing to the Northwest Florida Daily News.
DeFUNIAK SPRINGS — There are at least two things Walton County Sheriff Michael Adkinson wants county residents to know about the ongoing statewide ban on short-term vacation rentals.
During his now-weekly Thursday “Sheriff Live” interactive social media livestream broadcast, Adkinson provided the office’s administrative phone number (892-8186), and its non-emergency phone number (892-8111), as a means for people with information on potential violations of the short-term rental ban to contact the sheriff’s office.
https://t.co/ziOWGT2qk7— Walton Co. Sheriff (@WCSOFL) April 30, 2020
“Please be concise, with as much information as you can,” the sheriff said.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis imposed the ban on short-term vacation rentals on March 27, and on April 17 extended the ban to April 30. An executive order issued Wednesday by DeSantis, which begins reopening some businesses, left the short-term vacation rental ban in place. Hotels, motels and similar accommodations are not part of the ban.
In the March 27 order, DeSantis noted that “many cases of COVID-19 in Florida have resulted from individuals coming into the state of Florida from international travel and other states, posing great risk to Florida residents.” The governor went on to note that “vacation rentals and third-party platforms advertising vacation rentals in Florida (including online services like VRBO and Airbnb) present attractive lodging destinations for individuals coming into Florida.”
However, even with the ban in place, there is some evidence that such rentals are continuing in Walton County, including out-of-state tags on vehicles parked at rental properties and claims by some renters that they are family members of the property owner.
Throughout recent days, Adkinson has expressed concern about that, pointing out that people may be coming into the county from “hot spots” — areas of the country where COVID-19 is more widespread than in other areas of the country.
Adkinson has also pointed out that some number of the people apparently surreptitiously renting condominiums in the county may be coming from areas where stay-at-home orders are in place. Adkinson went on to note Thursday that anyone coming into the state from elsewhere is required to self-quarantine for 14 days.
Adkinson’s comments came just hours before the county’s 26 miles of public and private beaches were reopened to the public, after having been closed since March 19.
“If you don’t live or own property here, you’re not supposed to be here,” Adkinson said.
“The only people who should be on the beach right now are property owners or local residents,” he added.
On the other side of the issue, Adkinson said Thursday, it is difficult to believe that vacation rental property owners who have continued to take reservations for their properties are unaware of the rental ban.
The sheriff was quick to add that most vacation rental companies, from large operations like Ocean Reef and 360 Blue to smaller family-based or individual operations, are abiding by the vacation rental ban, at a considerable financial cost, without revenue for mortgage payments, maintenance and other expenses.
“The vast majority are in compliance … and those people are suffering,” Adkinson said.
Violation of the short-term rental ban is a second-degree misdemeanor, punishable by a jail term of up to 60 days and a fine of up to $500.
The sheriff’s office has already been taking calls and receiving emails on suspected violations of the short-term rental ban, and has taken action in at least a couple of cases, Adkinson said.
“We put a group of 15 out from New York last week,” the sheriff said Thursday.
The sheriff’s office also “took care of another one (alleged vacation rental violation) from Tennessee,” Adkinson said, adding that a couple of cases likely are headed for prosecution.
“It’s getting out of hand,” Adkinson said. But, he added, “we can’t deal with it if we don’t know about it.”