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Indian River County code enforcement cracks down on vacation rentals

by Staff

INDIAN RIVER COUNTY — Vacation rentals here have increased by more than 700% since 2016, and it’s the unruly ones that cause problems in their neighborhoods. The county is launching a crackdown to get the people who rent them to follow the rules.

It’s hired a code-enforcement officer to focus specifically on vacation rentals and it’s expanded the hours of the code-enforcement office — including on-call and weekend hours.

Ramped-up enforcement began Nov. to coincide with the beginning of tourist season.

“Issues regarding vacation rentals is not a new subject. Expanding services is about increased focus on permitting these units and ensuring they are operating safely,” said Andy Sobczak, director of the Planning and Development Services Department. “It has got to to point where we have got so much activity with these things that we need somebody dedicated full time to making sure they’re licensed, making sure that they’re not breaking the rules.”

Why is the county stepping in now?

Indian River County monitors and tracks how many rentals are listed online and keeps data going back five years.

Licenses from both the county and the state are necessary to operate, and renters must verify they are in compliance with the county’s rules and regulations. County code-enforcement officers can track code who holds licenses and who does not.

The need for tougher enforcement called for more staff.

“We really needed that separate person dedicated to code enforcement,” said Sobczak. “There are literally hundreds of rentals in the county that do not have the proper licenses. The problem necessitated a full-time officer to tackle it.”

When the county discovers an unlicensed rental, code enforcement first sends a letter explaining the issue and giving the owner 30 days to comply. If that doesn’t happen, not, the owner is slapped with a minimum $100 daily fine that could increase to as much as $500 until that license is obtained.

Why regulate vacation rentals?

Nearly eight years ago county officials were inundated with complaints from residents that their once-quiet neighborhoods were hosting renters’ large parties, weddings and many cars.

Enforcement, however, was problematic since many of the complaints came in after business hours.

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County officials responded by imposing mandatory $300 licenses for vacation rentals, good for two years. Other rules limited the number of cars and people allowed and prohibited certain events, said Sobczak.

“We restrict the number of people at each residence to what its septic capacity will allow, and we want to keep the amount of vehicles low so it is not an inconvenience for the neighborhood.” said Sobczak. “The county actually used to prohibit rentals less than 30 days.”

New on-call hours are 5-9 p.m. weekdays and 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. weekends. The new code-enforcement office is paid $24.34-$36.51 per hour.

“With these new implementations we can better serve the community, and if anyone is using their property illegally, staff can now have an easier time looking at it,” said Sobczak. “Our main concern is the health and safety of the residents of the county.”

Nick Slater is TCPalm’s Indian River County Watchdog reporter. You can reach him at [email protected] and 224-830-2875.

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