KEY WEST — Officials with Monroe County have reduced the $2.3 million in fines that a Florida couple who illegally rented out their oceanfront home accrued.
Gilbert L. and Dalia Sanchez have agreed on to pay $51,525 in a settlement after they failed to pay fines for renting out their Tavernier home twice.
County Commissioner David Rice said the biggest problem was the couple’s lawyer failed to file an injunction to stay the daily fees while they worked out their legal options.
“They were able to make their case and we were as reasonable as we could be,” Rice told the Florida Record. “Fifty thousand is way more that I would like to put on anybody, but it is sure less than a couple million.”
The couple bought the home in 2007 for $2.08 million, according to reports. The home also comes with a dock and pool. The Sanchezes advertised it in August 2010 as a vacation rental. At that time they were fined $2,000, as it was an area that was not permitted by the county for rental property. The couple paid the full fine, however, they failed to also pay $360 in administrative fees.
They were caught advertising the home again in September 2011. They were fined $15,000 at that time. Despite appealing the fee, their request was denied. The fines, which were over $1,000 per day, began to add up. Eventually, after failing to pay the fines, the couple found they owed over $2.3 million.
Rice said the county issued an ordinance several years ago regarding rental property.
“This is one of the most contentious issues that I recall going before the county commission,” he said. “There were neighborhoods that were becoming quite involved in vacation rental.”
Rice said there was a home next to his that was used as a vacation rental property.
“It certainly does change your neighborhood, I will admit that,” he said. “Your big problems are noise because people are down on vacation, they want to have fun. They don’t live there and they are not thinking about the fact that other people do.”
He said another big problem was the number of people at the rental property as well as the increase in vehicles such as boat trailers parked around the neighborhood.
“Things like that obviously can have an impact on the neighborhood,” he said.
Rice said one of the growing problems with vacation rentals in the community was how the practice has been encroaching upon affordable housing units.
“What we have seen in the last few years is even trailers are being rented for vacation rental,” he said, adding that taxpayer money was being invested to look for solutions to the problem.
“It is fine to try and spend taxpayer dollars to create workforce housing, but if you are losing workforce housing to vacation rental, that is illegal that is a little discouraging,” he said.
Rice added that the county did not have enough land space to expand and create more affordable housing, which has also exacerbated the problem.
“We are not only looking at the homes that have no impact on affordable housing, we are looking at our affordable housing stock, a growing number of them in the illegal vacation rental market," he said. "That is a serious problem.”