At our annual meeting several weeks ago, Pensacola Beach residents shared with the group concerns about short term rentals in their neighborhood. Complaints included noise and safety concerns as well as observations of public urination, drug dealers making deliveries, blocking of the beach for weddings, and more. Some noted their weariness of having to constantly call the authorities and nothing changes except having another huge group of “party animals” the following week. Commissioner Bender, who was at that meeting, made a passing comment about the short term rental ordinance at Flagler Beach. Using that as a spring board, the PBA has reviewed that ordinance as well as several others across Florida to come up with a “Sweet 16” list of items that should be included in any short term rental (STR) ordinance for single family homes and condominiums on Pensacola Beach;
1. Properly identifying these properties as COMMERCIAL - Is a property that is actively used to generate income for the owner residential or commercial? Does a residential property have a sign permanently placed in the front yard or on line advertising it for rent? What about advertising a home as a wedding house, event house, or party venue? Zoning concerns aside, if a homeowner is actively competing with hotels and/or banquet halls, then they should be classified as commercial and be licensed and inspected just like those facilities.
2. Ensuring proper licensing through the S.R.I.A., Escambia County or the State of Florida – to make sure a property owner is following all of the rules, proper licensing would be absolutely essential. Flagler Beach requires a rental permit application which would also include a copy of the deed, general liability insurance, a complete fire inspection, a copy of the State license issued by the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulations, a copy of a Sale Tax Certificate, and a copy of the Local Business Tax Receipt application.
3. Minimum life safety requirements – items like emergency lighting, fire extinguishers, smoke/carbon monoxide detectors, and pool safety would fall under this category
4. Maximum occupancy limits – the National Fire Prevention Association (NFPA) Life Safety Code 2018 Edition Section 7 Means of Egress Occupant Load Factor Table 126.96.36.199. (Page 84) notes there should be at least 200 square foot per person. There are some locales that use 150 square feet, and some limit occupancy to 2 per bedroom with a maximum number ranging from 6 to 16 people. The NFPA requirement of 200 square feet seems to be logical and not an arbitrary number.
5. Advertising must comply with all ordinances - Any advertising of the short-term vacation rental unit should conform to information included in a Short-Term Vacation Rental Certificate, particularly as this pertains to maximum occupancy.
6. Solid waste containers – Flagler Beach mandates one 35 gallon trash container with a lid that securely fastens per 4 transient occupants. Trash cannot be at the curb until the day before pick up and must be removed no later than sunrise the day after pick up. As we recycle in Escambia County, the PBA would recommend one or more of the containers be a dedicated recycling container.
7. Noise limitations and quiet hours – Escambia County Code of Enforcement Section 42 – 67 already has the following rules in place; In no event shall a person operate or cause to be operated or create any source of sound in the core area of Santa Rosa Island in such a manner so as to create a sound level which exceeds 70 dbAs (sound level measurement) when measured by a sound level meter at or within the property boundary of the receiving land use. On the remainder of Santa Rosa Island, outside the core area, in no event shall a person operate or cause to be operated or create any source of sound in such a manner as to create a sound level which exceeds 65 dbAs (sound level measurement) between the hours of 7:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m. and which exceeds 55 dbAs (sound level measurement) between the hours of 10:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m. when measured by a sound level meter at or within the property boundary of the receiving land use. This should already be enforced, but we are told that officers have not been properly trained in the sound monitoring devices that the Escambia County Sheriff’s Department already owns. We do not think that is acceptable, and call for the proper training and enforcement to begin immediately.
8. Routine inspections – Scheduled and drop-in inspections are a very good way to monitor compliance.
9. Identifying the responsible party – there should be an owner or an owner’s representative available 24/7 in case of an emergency or violations. The contact information for that person should be clearly posted for the renters as well as the authorities.
10. Displaying local rules & emergency information – dogs, glass, campfires, and driving that are prohibited on Pensacola Beach along with Leave No Trace and Turtle Lighting rules should be prominently posted as well as emergency numbers and the location of the nearest hospital, police and fire departments.
11. Parking limitations – street parking is prohibited and the minimum off-street parking shall be provided as one (1) space per three (3) transient occupants in the Flagler Beach ordinance. This does not seem to be onerous.
12. Fees & Fines – the fees for initial certification and annual recertification should be set low enough to encourage compliance and high enough to help offset the cost of inspections.
13. Offences & Violations – as there may be a new group of renters each week, there needs to be a running total on owners with an escalating schedule of fines for repeat violations. Fines, liens, revocation of rental certificates, and civil or criminal penalties should all be included in any ordinance.
14. Immunity from prosecution for local officials enforcing the STR ordinances – no government agency or employee should have to worry about doing their job properly. We agree.
15. Sign ordinance – this would outline limitations on the size, height, type, placement and illumination of front yard advertising for a STR.
16. Uniform enforcement – new rules and regulations will be meaningless without the full force of local authorities to reign in the revelry.
Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. wisely said "The right to swing my fist ends where the other man's nose begins." Simply put, your rights as a homeowner are protected up to the point where you infringe on someone else’s rights. We have some homeowners here that are out of touch, negligent, or uncaring about how the activity at their “home” affects their neighbors. People that come to Pensacola Beach to enjoy a vacation or a weekend party behave differently than they do “back home”. It’s time to hold both the homeowners and the renters accountable for not being mindful and respectful of their neighbors and surroundings. These 16 elements of a proposed SRT ordinance, enacted and enforced, will do wonders restoring peace and tranquility to our beautiful island paradise.