City Attorney Glen Torcivia is working on a compromise with the owners of about 50 Lake Worth vacation homes as city commissioners struggle with how best to regulate houses in neighborhoods that are rented to out-of-town guests.
The compromise would be an alternative to the expected lawsuit if the city tries to enforce a 60-day minimum stay policy under its transient public lodging code — not the favorite option of the mayor and commissioners but one they believe they might be stuck with.
A 2011 state law prohibits cities from “regulating, restricting or prohibiting” vacation home rentals unless local laws were on the books before June 2011.
“We are trying to come up with a solution,” Torcivia said. “This is something that should be resolvable.”
Several owners of vacation homes have said a 60-day minimum stay would put them out of business.
At the same time, some residents who live near vacation homes say the current policy of no regulation allows vacation homes to be used like motels, with different people moving in and out several times a week, destabilizing their neighborhoods.
Kara Cannizzaro, a Miramar-based attorney representing owners of vacation homes, said she is working with Torcivia and owners of vacation homes to develop guidelines that would make owners accountable while preserving their right to rent.
Cannizzaro argues the city’s transient public lodging code, including the 60-day minimum stay requirement, does not apply to vacation homes because it’s not clear.
“We do not believe the city has regulated vacation rentals in their code,” Cannizzaro said.
Mayor Pam Triolo has suggested a two-week minimum stay with a requirement that owners of vacation homes obtain business licenses and pay bed tax. Commissioner Andy Amoroso agrees. But the state law appears to prohibit the city from developing regulations for vacation homes.
Cannizzaro has suggested seeking an advisory opinion from the Florida attorney general’s office to determine whether the city can either clarify or amend its code to regulate vacation homes.
Some cities in Palm Beach County — including Palm Beach Gardens and Boca Raton — prohibit vacation home rentals. Delray Beach’s code says occupancy of homes in single-family neighborhoods can change no more than three times a year, essentially eliminating the owners’ ability to rent homes for stays of one or two weeks.
West Palm Beach allows vacation rentals but requires a minimum stay of seven consecutive days and requires owners to have a resort condominium or resort dwelling license from the state.
Torcivia said it could be a month or two before he and Cannizzaro can hammer out a compromise policy for Lake Worth.
Meanwhile, owners of vacation homes and residents who live near them are taking sides.
Owners say a 60-day minimum stay would snuff out a business that brings visitors and money into a city plagued by unemployment and blight.
Gail and John Morin, owners of the four-unit As Time Goes By vacation rental complex, say they stay full during the winter months and have rented to guests from England, Ireland, Finland and many parts of the United States. Most of their guests stay for one week, but some stay longer.
The Morins do not allow pets or children younger than age 14.
“We’re looking for adults who are looking for a peaceful, serene environment,” Gail Morin said.
But Helene Jarvis, who lives in a meticulously restored 1946 home on North Lakeside Drive, said her way of life changed after the two-story house next door sold in December and became a vacation rental. Some guests stay as little as two days, she said. One group of renters included three families and nine children.
“There’s no way I would have purchased this house if I’d known there were renters next door,” Jarvis said. “You don’t move into a residential area for a flow of traffic. You move into a residential area for neighbors. I won’t stand for it.”