Wellington Seeks To Crack Down On Troubled Vacation Rentals

The Wellington Municipal Complex.

A Wellington board wants to beef up enforcement against disturbances at short-term vacation rentals, following complaints about parking, noise, and even cases involving a shooting and renters knocking on doors at night to ask if they can park in a neighbor’s driveway.

“Unfortunately, it has been a handful of properties that spoil the barrel for the rest,” Planning, Zoning & Building Director Tim Stillings told Wellington’s Planning, Zoning & Adjustment Board on Thursday, Sept. 28.

By a 5-1 vote, the board voted to pass on to the Wellington Village Council recommendations to revamp village regulations and give local officials greater power to act.

“I would want to make sure we were enforcing it in areas that needed enforcement,” and not against minor or incidental lapses, Committee Vice Chair John Bowers said.

Under state law, local governments cannot prohibit vacation rentals, or regulate their frequency and duration. Given those limitations, the village is renewing its exploration of ways it can strengthen enforcement against problem rentals using local rules.

A village staff report found about 250 short-term vacation rentals in Wellington, typically meaning properties that are leased for 30 days or fewer at a time. That figure does not include, for example, months-long rentals for people associated with the equestrian industry, officials said.

A small number of repeat offenders have generated the most concern. These locations number perhaps fewer than five, staff members said, though they did not offer detailed data about complaints, cases and enforcement actions.

The intent is not to be “draconian” against the occasional violation, but to be able to move against rentals causing recurring problems, Stillings explained.

Sometimes these involve weekend parties, visitors that exceed occupancy limits, or wee-hour frolics in a yard or pool that concern neighbors, he said.

The latest proposed changes would emphasize, for example, prohibitions against parking automobiles on a swale, lawn, landscape area, sidewalk or public right-of-way.

The Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office would be a primary enforcer in those instances, though code enforcement officers could write citations as well. The property owner would be required to post a notice provided by the village to alert renters or visitors to the regulations.

The new proposals would set up a special use permit with a $600 one-time fee that the village would issue for affected rentals, and set out ways that can generate fines, suspensions or revocation. These can include a daily $125 fine or revocation for cases involving repeated violations, injuries, or drug or prostitution charges.

Existing regulations have sometimes made it difficult to issue citations promptly, leading to warnings or lag time before property owners face consequences, officials said.

Board Member Maureen Martinez questioned if rules were too strict limiting room occupancy to two people, excluding children under three years old, in cases where rooms might have bunk beds for older children, for instance.

That and other issues, such as the time period in which repeat violations trigger the possibility of more stringent enforcement action, could be subject to further discussion and tweaking as the proposals proceed to their next government stop.

In other action, the board reaffirmed its recommendations to the council to deny or delay approval of Wellington Lifestyle Partners’ Wellington North proposal to build hundreds of homes and amenities, in part on land in the Equestrian Preserve Area.

The board reopened a public hearing to hear from 49 neighbors who were not previously given proper notice about the opportunity to be heard, but no one appeared to speak at the Sept. 28 meeting.

The Wellington Village Council is scheduled to take up the Wellington North and Wellington South projects starting on Tuesday, Oct. 10 at 6 p.m. Time is also reserved on Wednesday, Oct. 11 and Thursday, Oct. 12 if additional time is needed.

The agenda will consist of the first reading of the comprehensive plan amendment and rezoning applications only. The master plan amendment applications will not be heard at that time.