For those who have been dealing with the issues surrounding Short Term Rentals (STRs), we must look beyond the last two to three years and instead look back two to three decades. The advent of the internet resulted in the easy access to vacation properties. With a click of your computer’s mouse, your rental property could be widely viewed, and reservations made by vacationers throughout the world.
It wasn’t a huge leap to take the model utilized by hotels or online services such as VRBO and enable homeowners to advertise their properties themselves, eliminating the middleman and increasing the profitability of the transaction. A few digital photographs uploaded to your social media page or vacation rental website, and you’re in business.
The vacation rental market has become flooded with properties. Owners generate a cash flow stream to help pay the financial burden of a second home and enjoy a wonderful place for their own vacation when the property is not being utilized by others.
Vacation rental businesses sprung up in the early ‘90s to fill the void when a homeowner didn’t want the burden of managing their property. In some cases, these companies operated with little or no oversight. Small communities experienced problems, including an increase in noise, trash and overcrowding in single-family neighborhoods. This soon became a problem for municipalities to address.
These changes in the vacation marketplace impacted hotel chains and their marketing strategies. Families now had a variety of choices on where to stay. Without restrictions, they could double (or triple) up to cut costs in a desirable vacation location and still enjoy amenities such as a pool or spa.
Many municipalities were not prepared for the problems that arose with the increase of STRs in residential neighborhoods. Essentially, the vacation rentals are businesses that have been dropped in the center of these residential areas, which were originally designed for single-family homes, schools, health clinics, churches and parks.
Companies and investment groups have entered the picture, buying up segments of communities for use as vacation rentals. Some companies are purchasing large residences and then selling shares of the homes to multiple parties. How this form of ownership and use will impact the marketplace has yet to be seen.
The topic of restricting STRs is highly debated. Nobody wants this type of negative conflict, especially realtors who have invested time and resources to develop positive customer relationships that they hope will bring them future sales.
I know this exists because of the conversations I’ve had with both realtors and unsuspecting customers who have been placed into the uncomfortable situation of not being told everything prior to the sale.
City staff, like many of us, have never before seen such a tidal wave of issues. If you Google “Short Term Rentals,” you will see that these same issues are spreading like wildfire across communities like ours.
Couple this with short-term rentals’ impact on affordable workforce housing (causing it to dry up) and our local businesses are scrambling to find quality employees to maintain their level of customer service. Unless you’ve lived under a rock these last couple of years, you will have noticed that the issue has almost (if not already) reached crisis proportions.
The lack of affordable housing doesn’t only affect service workers, but has also impacted health care workers, bank employees and other skilled professionals want to establish roots in Marco Island. Instead of being able to work towards home ownership and raising a family, they are being priced out of the marketplace as once-affordable starter homes have been swept up by investors looking for a high rate of return in the short-term rental business.
To their credit, a few months ago the local Realtors Association publicly expressed their support of a Rental Registration Ordinance. Such an ordinance would hopefully assist city staff who are struggling to ensure that the short-term rentals are safe. This would protect the renters, those who are professionally involved in the business, and the homeowners. Safety regulations for swimming pools and basic fire-safety regulations must be followed in the same manner as other local businesses.
Marco Island voters will have the opportunity to vote on a registration ordinance during the August Primary Election. I have a hard time fathoming why any elected official wouldn’t want to protect the life of a child or adult staying in a STR in the same way customers are protected when they enter any other business.
We’ve kicked this can down the road for too long. We must move forward now, in a prudent and reasoned fashion, and remove the politics from the issue. The time to act is now, not later. I hope that you will consider all sides of the proposed STR ordinance in a respectful and polite manner.