The Wellington Village Council gave its initial approval Tuesday, Aug. 11 to zoning text amendments designed to regulate vacation rentals in the village, despite dissatisfaction with parking criteria.
Village Engineer Tim Stillings explained that the local issue with vacation rentals has been situations where someone rents a large home and then packs it with guests for a party. “The problem has been vacation rentals being used as a party house,” he said.
By Florida law, local governments cannot prohibit vacation rentals, popularized by internet companies such as Airbnb, but they can regulate permitted uses in residential areas. This is not to be confused with a homeowners’ association, which can legally and contractually prohibit vacation rentals in its community.
Palm Beach County and the State of Florida each provide licensing by vacation rental owners for the collection of taxes. A responsible party must be registered for the vacation rental ownership.
The request to modify the use regulations schedule in the village’s land development regulations to include vacation rentals is not taking anything away that had been permitted. Rather, it is amalgamating all the related rules in one place to provide easy access for vacation rental users and owners.
Stillings said that the supplementary regulations address standards for the number of overnight occupants, day use visitors, parking, licensing, tax collection, database searches, pool regulations, and regulations that apply to other homes that also apply to vacation rentals.
The number of overnight occupants is limited to two persons per bedroom. Children under three years old are not counted. There is no provision for guests that might sleep on fold-out couches.
Now, a search of a national database is required to ensure that no guest of a vacation rental is listed on the national register of sex offenders. This differs from the current regulation that states that no one listed on that register may reside within 2,500 feet of a school.
Further, an affidavit listing the registered renter and the owner’s representative must be submitted with the rental agreement.
Stillings said that parking is limited to four cars parked overnight.
However, Mayor Anne Gerwig said that might be an issue in areas with large estate homes.
“I think this is too restrictive because some equestrian homes have eight bedrooms,” she noted.
Councilman John McGovern suggested the idea of different rules for high-end accommodations.
A lengthy discussion yielded a promise from Village Manager Paul Schofield to develop a compromise by the item’s final reading, currently scheduled for Tuesday, Aug. 25. “I will suggest a clarification before the second reading,” he said.
Gerwig said that the rules should focus on the issue that created the need. “We are really trying to focus on the party house, which has become a problem,” she said.
Schofield agreed, but added that other protections for neighbors are also warranted. “Vacation rentals introduce a for-profit dimension to a residential neighborhood,” he said. “We want to have clear, defensible regulations to resolve a problem when it arises.”
Gerwig reiterated that the regulations are not necessarily new.
“Some people buy homes to use as vacation rentals exclusively — investment properties are OK,” she said. “We are putting it all in one place and making it clear. We don’t want people to say that they didn’t know there was an ordinance.”
Schofield pointed out that putting it all in one place allows the village to collect information on standard rentals, seasonal rentals and vacation rentals. It gives the village a handle on how many vacation rentals there are in Wellington, as trying to establish this figure has been challenging for staff.
Wellington’s Planning, Zoning & Adjustment Board also struggled with similar issues with the ordinance in discussions for some two hours before recommending approval 5-0 and sending it to the council.
“Nothing restrictive or new is being added,” Vice Mayor Tanya Siskind said. “All the rules will be in one place. If you are doing vacation rentals right, this is not going to affect you.”
“Everyone has rights,” Councilman Michael Napoleone added. “The owners who rent out their homes have rights, and their neighbors who live there have rights.”
The council voted unanimously to approve the item despite the misgivings about the parking requirements. Schofield reiterated that new wording would be devised before the final reading.