Destin faces dozens of Bert Harris claims

Tony Judnich

DESTIN — City staff will offer increased maximum occupancy limits to the owners of 36 short-term vacation rental homes in Destin who claim a city ordinance has caused their property values to drop by hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars.

A majority of the city council on Monday agreed to offer higher maximum occupancy. No settlement money is being offered, according to city spokeswoman Catherine Card.

Destin has about 1,000 registered short-term rental homes. 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.

Citing problems such as noise, excessive trash and haphazard parking at various short-term rental homes, the council last January approved an ordinance that limits the number of occupants at such properties.

But at various times after the ordinance’s enactment, the city received claims from affected property owners pursuant to the Bert J. Harris Jr. Private Property Rights Protection Act, according to Destin Land Use Attorney Kimberly Kopp.

“In general, the various claims allege that the property owners’ respective properties have been inordinately burdened by the adoption of the ordinance,” Kopp said in a memo to the council.

The Harris Act requires property owners filing claims pursuant to the act to present their claim in writing to the governmental entity it intends to sue 150 days prior to the filing of a lawsuit, according to Kopp.

“Part of this written presentation includes the submission of a bona fide, valid appraisal that supports the claim and demonstrates a loss in fair market value of the property,” she said in the memo.

On Monday, a majority of the council agreed to direct staff to negotiate agreements based on the occupancy limit of two persons per bedroom plus four additional persons, or 200 square feet per occupant.

Staff will use the higher of those two numbers as long as it is equal to or less than the requested occupancy.

The 36 short-term rental properties with Bert Harris claims include a nine-bedroom rental on Scenic Highway 98 that reportedly has lost almost $1.6 million in property value because of the occupancy limits.

The owner of this property has requested a maximum occupancy of 36 occupants, while city staff is recommending an occupancy of 32, based on the property’s square footage.