SARASOTA, Fla. — The City of Sarasota is taking steps to let more people run short-term rentals out of their homes, saying this could help support small businesses during COVID-19 restrictions. But city leaders say that doesn't mean residents can expect "hotel houses" in their neighborhoods.
City leaders may change a city ordinance to allow homeowners to rent out an extra room, a garage apartment, or a mother-in-law suite on vacation rental websites like AirBNB and VRBO.
But the key here is that it's a home you actually live in, not just a property you own and rent out to vacationers.
Sarasota City Commissioner Hagan Brody has long been an advocate for allowing these types of "home-sharing" rentals and said there are already dozens of homeowners running these in the city.
Brody said changing the city ordinance will allow these homeowners to do this legally and give these families extra financial support during COVID-19 restrictions through these rentals.
"A lot of this is just about bringing them out of the shadows and allowing them to do this on the up and up," he said.
Brody said home-sharing guests are often looking to experience the neighborhood and tour the community. He also said as they've found from looking at law enforcement call outs, these kinds of guests don't typically disrupt the neighborhood.
"What this allows people to do is reap some of those benefits by bringing someone into their home, that wants to visit, that wants to really experience the community, the way that us residents experience it," Brody said.
"It puts a little coin in their pocket, and then those folks then go and support the local businesses that are nearby."
Right now in the city, there is a grandfathered-in rule that any vacation rental must have a minimum stay of one week. The goal is to prevent disruptions, frequent parties, noise, and other problems that some communities have found with short-term vacation rentals.
The idea of allowing home-sharing rentals in Sarasota was first brought forward a few years ago. In 2018, residents came forward in public comment with mixed reactions to the potential change.
Some were for it, saying they ran successful home-sharing rentals already.
However, others came forward to say that many residents don't have a vested interest in short-term vacation rentals, and using their homes as a tourist and business operation doesn't work with residential zoning.
Brody maintains that home-sharing is very different than your average short-term vacation rental.
"What we're trying to do is really strike a balance and find a common-sense approach to allow our residents to really use their home and their properties to their benefit during these tough times, while also protecting the integrity of the neighborhoods," he said. "I think this does strike that balance."
The city attorney has prepared a report to present to the Sarasota City Commission on Monday, October 19. It finds that legally, the city can allow home-sharing rentals without affecting the seven-night rule for true vacation rentals.
City leaders could vote to move forward with changing the ordinance to allow home-sharing at their regular meeting on October 19.