‘We have to see changes’: City leaders, residents debate short term rentals

Matt Algarin
More than two dozen people turned out to Monday night’s City Council workshop at the City Hall Annex to discuss potential occupancy limits in short term rentals.

For more than three hours Monday night, city leaders and Destin residents shared their frustration and suggestions as they consider new regulations for short term rental properties.

“On Holiday Isle, our biggest problem is short term,” said Scott Fisher. “Basically we have a few owners that are running mini hotels, wedding chapels in single family neighborhoods.”

“We need help,” he added. “We cannot do it on our own — and we’ve tried.”

Possible occupancy limits for short term rentals is something city leaders and staff have been looking at since December 2014. At the time, Councilwoman Prebble Ramswell told her colleagues she was concerned about the lack of adequate parking, excessive noise and fire safety.

Currently, the city does have regulations through its existing codes of ordinances to address some of the issues at hand.

“I’m very comfortable we can regulate the issue of trash, noise and parking,” City Manager Greg Kisela said. “We do not have the right of entry to regulate occupancy. We do not have the right to count heads.”

Owners of short term rentals are required to register the property with the city and pay a $25 fee. They must also provide a name, address and emergency contact number for a responsible party, which must be answered 24-hours-a-day, seven days a week.

The city has between 550-600 short term rentals currently registered, according to Kisela. Some at the meeting said this number was too low and not an accurate reflection of what’s actually available as short term rentals.

There were a couple of ideas that proved to be popular, or at least common themes, Monday night. One was to raise the current $25 fee and use the additional revenue to pay a full-time code enforcement officer to patrol and assist with short term rental issues. The other idea was to find a way to enforce the existing codes instead of creating more regulations.

“I think within the structure of the city of Destin, there is enough (regulations),” said Ken Wampler, who works in the rental management business locally. “I employ the city to start with enforcing the code.”

While the city may have rules and regulations in place, many in attendance said the existing code doesn’t have any “teeth” and cannot be enforced by the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office.

“We don’t get enough of the sheriff’s support,” said Gary Troupe, who owns in the Crystal Beach area. “That’s been my experience.

“I’d be curious to see how many disturbing the peace citations have been issued in Destin in the past two years,” he said.

As the conversations progressed, frustrations became evident on the dais.

“I’ve been on the council almost eight years, I don’t know whether to be embarrassed or pissed off,” Councilman Jim Wood said.

“If we can’t fix the citizen’s complaints, what are we doing here,” he said. “We have to fix these citizens perception about us that we can’t or won’t be able to do something.”

Given that Monday’s meeting was a workshop, city leaders were not able to make any motions, but Kisela told the council he had a clear direction moving forward based on the discussions.

He said the city will address issues with noise, trash and parking, via the recently approved special magistrate that will take the place of the city’s code enforcement board.

“If we need additional resources, then I will come to you as part of the 2016 budget cycle,” Kisela said.

For her part, Councilwoman Ramswell says the key is just to get everybody on the same page when it comes to enforcement and regulations.

“You’ve got so many different things contradicting each other,” she said.

“We have to see changes, and based on what everybody said, it’s no longer ‘we need to,’ it’s ‘we have to,’” she said. 

QUOATABLES

“Short term tenants have little interest in public agencies or the welfare of cities,” said Daryl Shelton. “Literally, they are here today and gone tomorrow.”

“The future is being shaped today and this future is being shaped by you folks,” said George Blakeslee.

“This is kinda like a shotgun approach, trying to kill everything,” Royce Kershaw said of increased regulations. “We just need to do it the right way.”

“If you have a house that sleeps 40 people, that’s not a house that’s a bed and breakfast,” Bruce Craul said. “You have to know that people, guests and owners, are not going to do what you expect, they are only going to do what you inspect.”

“It seems today, all I hear about is the symptoms. We’re here about parking, we’re here about the trash, we’re here about the noise,” said Dale Peterson. “It’s about code enforcement.”

“It's got so bad that we’ve had some of the rental home owners who have gotten retaliatory,” said Patricia Brown.

“I think I paid more than that for a sticker to go to Henderson Beach,” Councilman Rodney Braden said. “I think we need to step up to the plate.”

To watch a short video showcasing some of the issues, CLICK HERE.