Large beach home

221 Grant Drive, Sarasota, is one of the large vacation rentals—often called "hotel houses"—on Lido Key that have frustrated nearby residents in the past.

Image: Gene Pollux

The Sarasota City Commission voted unanimously on Monday to move forward with creating a new ordinance that would allow homeowners to rent out rooms in their homes for less than seven days at a time.

The concept is called “home sharing,” or “hosted rentals,” and is not meant to be confused with vacation rentals or so-called “hotel houses.” What sets home sharing apart is that the homeowner is present throughout a tenant’s stay. The citywide requirement of a one week minimum stay in vacation rentals, in which the paying tenant occupies the entire home, will remain in place.

Proponents of home sharing argue that the problems commonly associated with vacation rentals don’t occur with home sharing because the number of guests is smaller and the resident host is a stakeholder in his or her neighborhood. Home sharing hosts who rent out only a portion of their home are not required to register with the Florida Department of Professional and Business Regulation as vacation rentals, and can home share in residentially zoned neighborhoods.

However, some city residents, like Chris Goglia, pointed yesterday to ways in which home sharing may give vacation rental and hotel house owners space to exploit the new ordinance. In part, Goglia said, that's due to how “homeowner” is defined.

According to a memorandum supplied by City Attorney Robert Fournier, the City of Sarasota zoning code defines a property owner as "a person who holds the simple title to a given area of land." The word "person" is in turn defined as "any partnership, firm, association, public or private corporation, trust, joint venture, estate or other legal entity."

In that case, “why couldn't hotel house owners just have a 12-bedroom house with a representative employee who lives there permanently?” asked Goglia.

Although he presented himself as a resident at yesterday’s meeting, Goglia is also the president of the St. Armands Residents Association. He is among those who won a push to regulate hotel houses and vacation rentals with limits on the number of guests allowed and a registration  requirement to identify responsible parties who can respond to complaints 24 hours a day. Those provisions go into effect June 1 of next year. But with home sharing now on the table, Goglia wonders if those provisions could be circumvented.

Commissioner Jen Ahearn-Koch agreed. “We want to help the community and not accidentally create another path for a hotel house situation,” she said.

Before yesterday’s meeting, Goglia emailed commissioners and St. Armands Residents Association members three suggestions to ensure home sharing doesn’t become a loophole for hotel house owners: limit this to properties that are owned by individuals only, not trusts, LLCs or other entities; limit the number of allowed overnight guests to a very small number; and require that no more than one group of tenants occupy a property during any seven-day period.

But commissioners didn’t comb through those details at Monday’s meeting.

Two resident speakers  in favor of home sharing highlighted the fact that it kept tourism spending in neighborhoods and nurtured mom-and-pop businesses located off the main tourist drags.

And Mayor Hagen Brody said that people should have the freedom to do what they like with their home.

“We have dozens here that haven’t posed any issues,” he said.

Another detail that would have to be amended to adopt a home sharing ordinance is how a bed-and-breakfast is defined. As it stands, they’re characterized as having a single kitchen and up to five bedrooms, a definition that may overlap with that of a home sharing property. But operating a bed and breakfast is currently prohibited in residential districts.

Details aside, the reality of a busy winter season is on the horizon, and hotel houses—with some advertised as being able to accommodate as many as 25 guests—are still in business. Lido Key has roughly five or six operating and another five or six nearing completion. One is in the works on Fillmore Drive, a small, residential side street on St. Armands Circle.

“While I don't think we have much home sharing happening on St. Armands specifically, my concern is that this could someday be used by bad actors to circumvent the city's vacation rental ordinance,” says Goglia.

A followup date for City Attorney Fournier to present a draft of a home sharing ordinance has yet to be scheduled. The commission will have the opportunity to amend the ordinance that is brought back to them based on community feedback.

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