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HB mayor says code inspections to continue

By Rick Catlin, Islander Reporter

Holmes Beach Mayor Rich Bohnenberger said code violation notices sent Oct. 14 to 10 property owners mark the beginning of city efforts to identify code violators.

“All properties listed as rentals are going to be inspected,” Bohnenberger said.

The bad news for a vacation property owner or manager found violating city code is that the vacation rental tax license for the property is “automatically suspended,” the mayor said, and rentals at that location are not permitted until the property complies with the code.

Public Works Director Joe Duennes, who is in charge of the inspections, said he will be scheduling about 10-15 inspections each week.

Code enforcement officer Dave Forbes and building official Bob Shaffer inspected 14 properties, found 10 that violated codes for rental properties and curbside trash placement, and mailed certified letters to the owners.

Shaffer said those who received a code violation letter had 14 days to respond. If no response is received, the violation can be forwarded to the code enforcement board for action.

If the board finds a code violation, the offending party can be fined up to $250 a day until the violation is corrected and the property brought into compliance.

The crackdown began after Forbes’ efforts to informally resolve many code violations, particularly trash left curbside on non-pickup days, were unsuccessful.

At the same time, the mayor said, he was receiving more and more complaints about loud noise at rental units, cars parked on the rights of way and trash left curbside on non-pickup days.

“We had to show our residents and the offending property owners that we are not going to just ignore these violations,” the mayor said.

City code requires the owner of a new home to attest to the structure being either a residence or a vacation rental, Bohnenberger said.

A residence needs only two parking spaces and parking is allowed on the right of way.

A rental property needs one parking space not in the right of way for each bedroom, and the owner or rental agent has to obtain a vacation rental license for the property, the mayor said.

The city’s trash pickup ordinance requires curbside placement of trash no earlier than the evening before a scheduled trash pickup day. If this can’t be done at a vacation rental or home, the owner is required to pay for rear-door trash pickup service from Waste Management Inc., the city’s trash-hauling contractor.

Bohnenberger said some renters don’t know the code and leave trash curbside several days before a scheduled pickup.

Shaffer said he’s already heard from several property owners who received code violation letters. Efforts to resolve those violations are under way, Shaffer said.

He’s also had some unverified reports of houses that are vacation properties, but were declared a single-family residence, thus avoiding the rental license and the 5 percent resort tax due on all rentals of six months or less. Those houses will be inspected, Shaffer said.

But facing the Holmes Beach code enforcement board is not the end of an issue for the owner of a vacation rental property listed as a single-family home.

“These property owners not only have to face the city, but also the resort tax collection unit,” said Sue Sinquefield of the Manatee County Tax Collector’s resort tax office.

Sinquefield said when inspectors find a home that is being rented without a rental license, or question the resort tax payment, they go through records and determine how much is owed to the tax office in back taxes. Inspectors work closely with municipal and county code enforcement officers, Sinquefield said.

Property owners who declared a house a residence and claimed a homestead exemption, then made the house a vacation rental, may also face difficulty with the Manatee County Property Appraiser’s Office, Sinquefield said.

Duennes, who has overall responsibility for the code enforcement department, said the current spate of vacation rental inspections is focusing on transient rentals, not annual or semi-annual rentals.

Transient rental properties are those rented for 30 days or less. Houses and duplexes rented year-round or for more than 30 days are not the subject of the inspections, Duennes said.

Most of the violations found Oct. 13 were related to landscaping, which is required between a transient rental property and a residence and inadequate parking, Duennes said. A few had trash at the curb on an unscheduled pickup day.

“If you have a vacation rental, you have to have one on-site parking space for each bedroom,” he said. “You also have to have a landscaping buffer between the rental property and the next-door residence.”

The number of transient rentals built in the city has increased considerably the past six months, he said, and code enforcement officers will inspect properties built in the past 18 months to determine if the construction or usage violates city code.

Constructing a single-family home, then turning it into a vacation rental, or building an owner-occupied duplex, then renting both units for 30 days or less is a code violation. Additionally, duplexes are only allowed in the R-2 residential district, he said.

Duennes said the city has taken people at their word, but it appears some Holmes Beach property owners and builders have found a “loophole” to build transient accommodations without adequate parking or a landscaping buffer.

Duennes said inspections will be unannounced.

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