Manatee County Sheriff’s Office deputies stationed in Anna Maria have been begun investigating rental properties in the city in search of unlicensed or unregistered vacation rentals.
An Aug. 28 memo from Sgt. Dave Turner, head of the MCSO substation, gave approval to Deputy Steve Ogline to investigate suspected violators as a criminal — felony — offense if they are not registered with the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation as required by statute.
Ogline is using a database prepared by Anna Maria code enforcement officer Gerry Rathvon that lists the owner and/or rental agent responsible for a vacation rental if available. Vacation rentals not in the database will be noted by Ogline as well as other deputies and code enforcement officers.
Rathvon said she has about 500 properties in the database for Anna Maria vacation rentals and she expects more to be added in the future. Anna Maria Commission Chair Chuck Webb has said he believes there are nearly 700 vacation rentals in the city.
State-backed criminal charges can be initiated by the state attorneys office against the homeowner based on the MCSO report should the report show the homeowner using a home or unit that is not licensed by the DBPR as a vacation rental. Failure to have a proper tax collection license issued by the Manatee County Tax Collector’s office is a misdemeanor governed by county law.
In a memo to code enforcement officer Gerry Rathvon, Ogline said he started his investigations with 12 properties on his suspect list, including seven not in Rathvon’s database.
These are all homes that law enforcement and code enforcement officers have identified as possible vacation rental properties operating without the required state license.
Ogline plans to send the homeowner’s name and property address to the DBPR for the agency to determine if a license to use the house as a vacation rental was issued.
“There are some others I plan to start investigating, but I figured these 12 would be a good start,” Ogline told Rathvon.
He said there is no indication any of the 12 suspect properties use a local rental agency.
If any name or address comes back from the DBPR as unregistered for a vacation rental, Ogline said he will write a report on the violation and forward it through MCSO channels to the state attorney’s office for further action.
City Commissioner SueLynn, who has been advocating for control of rowdy tenants who rent from owners who ignore established rental “best practices,” said this is a “significant first step” in getting a handle on keeping Anna Maria a quiet and peaceful destination.
“We still have a long way to go,” she said, but added that finding unlicensed operators is a start.
The vacation rental issue came to the forefront in Anna Maria after the Florida Legislature passed a bill stating that cities could no longer limit vacation rental zoning beyond previously established regulations. The legislature required residential and rental properties be regulated the same in the future.
Many cities were unaware of the legislation, said Holmes Beach Mayor Rich Bohnenberger, and the statute passed quietly before the Florida League of Cities could organize an effort to halt the bill.
The state statute literally blind-sided SueLynn, Mayor Mike Selby and other Anna Maria commissioners.
“I was stunned when I learned we could no longer control our own zoning,” said Selby.
SueLynn agreed: “It’s like being able to build a 7-11 on North Shore Drive, or put in a pizza delivery store on Magnolia Avenue, and the city can’t stop it.”
Selby is still working to have deputies issue code violations to nuisance tenants or noisemakers.
Turner has said issuing citations is not the job of deputies.
Negotiations between city attorney Jim Dye and Michelle Hall, attorney for the MCSO, are ongoing.
The Anna Maria rental database can be found online on the real estate page at www.islander.org.