When Vero Beach officials fined a couple $50 last month for renting their four-bedroom Central Beach home on a weekly basis, the citation represented the first time in at least five years the city actually fined homeowners for violating codes that prohibit rentals of less than 30 days in single-family neighborhoods.
Could it be that Sorin and Tina Barrett – who get up to $2,780 a week for their “Eagle Drive Delight” home on internet vacation rental websites – are the only ones in the city violating the code?
Scores of properties are listed as short-term rentals, including a house owned by Tracy Carroll, the city's vice mayor, and her husband. In fact, a state agency that requires that vacation rentals have permits indicates more than 160 properties on the barrier island are listed as vacation rentals, though that includes homes in Indian River Shores, the town of Orchid and in the unincorporated county.
Still, in the city, which has a code against vacation rentals of less than 30 days, there are plenty of homeowners to go after but enforcement officials seldom do.
Central Beach residents are growing increasingly concerned that if the city doesn’t crack down on short-term rentals, the situation will deteriorate. They also say code officials need to crack down on scofflaws.
The Carrolls, the Barretts and a Colorado couple are the only people who have even been warned not to violate code in the last five years.
Carroll’s situation came to light in 2011 over the rental of a property on Seagrape Lane, a home she and her husband no longer own. These days the Carrolls offer another home for rent, this one on Camelia Lane.
Carroll refused last week to respond to an e-mail for comment from Vero Beach 32963. She also refused to discuss the matter when asked later in person.
“I’m not going to discuss that,” Carroll said, inferring that the property – a house that property appraiser’s records indicate she owns with husband John Carroll – is her husband’s business and not hers. “That’s his business stuff.”
Carroll was more vocal in 2011 when she cried foul after someone reported her for renting her Seagrape Lane home. She suggested that city staff went after her while she was running for a city council seat because she supported the sale of the electric utility. She was finally issued a warning in June 2012 for the Seagrape home.
Vero Beach Planning Director Tim McGarry told Vero Beach 32963 at the time that Carroll’s assertions were nonsense. “We are not the Gestapo,” he said in a September 2011 story. “We only enforce the ordinance if somebody complains and somebody complained about Tracy’s house.”
On Friday, David Hunter, the man who called code enforcement on the Barretts’ Eagle Drive property, filed a complaint with the city on the Carrolls’ Camelia Lane property. Vacation websites say the Camelia Lane home is rented for $1,500 to $2,150 a week.
Hunter and other residents say McGarry is too lenient with scofflaws.
“If the Barretts are the first people cited since Tracy Carroll, then this shows how really pathetic the whole situation is,” Hunter said.
McGarry maintains his staff of two doesn’t have the manpower, however, to enforce the 30-day rental code to everyone’s liking. The problem, he contends, is that the couple has to be caught in the act of renting their home each day.
While that might indeed be a problem in a bigger city, there currently are only six active cases under investigation in Vero Beach as of Monday.
Apparently upset that she was discovered and turned in by her neighbors, Tina Barrett paid a visit to the Eagle Drive property Friday. Neighbor Jim McCown, another complainer, said he was floored by what Barrett had to say.
“She said she had been out of the country and didn’t know what was going on. She said she had asked the vacation rental company to take the listing down,” McCown said.
McCown said Barrett told him she had no idea that for the past two years, her property has been rented out at between $2,100 and $2,780 a week.
“I said, ‘Tina, I see you over there getting your mail and I’ve seen you coming in with cleaning supplies (after the vacation renters leave).’ I said, ‘The neighbors don’t like it and I am one of them.’ I said, ‘Your house is running like a motel and there are people coming and going.’ And she said, ‘Oh well, that’s not me.’”