The stakes are rising for the city of Holmes Beach on the Bert Harris battlefield with two more lawsuits crossing the mayor’s desk.
Corporate owners Mojito Splash LLC and 302 55th LLC filed suit Jan. 26 under the Bert J. Harris Private Property Rights Protection Act, a law designed to compensate owners for properties devalued by county and municipal government actions.
The new complaints bring the number of Bert Harris suits against Holmes Beach to 13 and claims to $4.9 million.
Filed by attorney Aaron Thomas of the Najmy Thompson law firm of Bradenton, the suits allege the city’s two-person-per-bedroom occupancy limit imposed a disproportionate and inordinate economic burden on the owners’ properties.
The new suits join 11 similar suits targeting a series of rental ordinances adopted by the city commission 2013-16 to stem construction of large short-term rental homes. Ordinances, including limits on building footprints, living areas, setbacks, parking, pools, as well as occupancy, have been challenged in other cases.
The city appears to be staying the course in the face of the mounting suits and costs.
Mayor Bob Johnson was served Feb. 14 with the new litigation.
“I’m quite comfortable with our position at this time,” Johnson said.
The Mojito and 302 55th complaints allege the city caused $275,000 and $655,000 losses, respectively, according to appraisals filed in April 2017 with the original claims.
Before filing a lawsuit under the act, the owners’ claims must be first brought to the government entity. The entity — the city, in this case — is required to respond with an offer of settlement, which can be an offer of no change in its actions — and Holmes Beach has thus far responded to all claimants with “no change” offers.
The lawsuits contend the owners built the homes before the city adopted the 2015-16 VROs and occupancy rule.
In the Mojito Splash complaint, Thomas alleges developer Shawn Kaleta built a residence at 304 65th St. with five bedrooms in 2008 and transferred it into corporate ownership in 2013 with an intent to rent to at least 12 people at a time.
The city’s VRO limited the home to 10 occupants and “significantly devalued the property,” the complaint states.
The 302 55th complaint states the LLC took title in 2014 and, in July 2015, received a final certificate of occupancy for an eight-bedroom home.
That complaint alleges the owner’s intent to rent to 20 people and the city VRO, prohibiting the owner from bookings parties exceeding 16 guests, limited the “rental pool,” and “thus significantly devalued the property.”
Jennifer Kaleta is listed as the title manager of both LLCs, according to the Florida Secretary of State’s sunbiz.org website.
The city began receiving claims in March 2016 and the first lawsuit was filed in January 2017.
According to treasurer Lori Hill, the city’s Florida League of Cities’ insurance covers $1 million per year, with coverage dependent on the ordinance challenged and the year the suit was filed.
“Right now, our position is fine,” Johnson said.
“We keep tabs on it. We think the cases are very defensible.
“We believe we have good arguments. We wouldn’t be continuing the cases if we didn’t,” Johnson said.
“At this point coverage is about expenses and costs,” Johnson added.
No breakdown in costs paid in 2017 was available from the city at press time.