Council Extends Prohibition on Accommodation Rentals

by SC Publisher Shannen Hayes

Sanibel City Council extended the prohibition on accommodation rentals. Under the new proclamation, all of the island’s vacation rentals are restricted from accepting new check-ins and required to cancel existing reservations – no matter the length of stay – through April 30.

Mayor Kevin Ruane said in the special meeting on Wednesday, April 1, that he was concerned about gaps in the previous legislation, such as renting for one to three months. “We don’t want them here,” he said.

The prohibition does not affect owners of a condominium, timeshare or any other private property, which are rented, from staying in their residence. And guests already on the island are allowed to stay for the duration of their planned visit. There are also exceptions for anyone signing a rental lease of six months or longer and island residents who must vacate their home due to fire, flood or are escaping domestic violence.

Council’s action came on the same day Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed an executive order directing Floridians to limit their movements to obtaining or providing essential services or conducting essential activities. The order also directs senior citizens and individuals with a significant underlying medical condition to stay at home.

The governor’s order was issued in accordance with the recent 30-day extension of national social distancing guidelines. It goes into effect at midnight on Friday, April 3 and set to expire at the end of the month. “We want to be supportive of the governor’s order and consistent with it,” said Ruane.

City Attorney John Agnew read public comments sent by email into the record. Many of them continue to call for a hurricane pass in order to enter the island and others asked council to extend the moratorium on accommodation rentals to 90 days like Fort Myers Beach.

Ruane addressed the comments by reiterating there are a number of problems with using hurricane passes. The biggest issues, besides Lee County owning the toll booth, are service workers who come across the bridge and that it may not be the best use of the city’s resources – specifically the police department.

The mayor also said Fort Myers Beach is very likely to amend its 90-day prohibition on accommodation rentals to 30 days. Ruane noted that decisions can be revisited as the virus pandemic continues to unfold.

Additionally, there were a few comments about the Sanibel Farmer’s Market continuing to operate on Sundays. The market has been functioning on an “in-and-out” basis with a ban on congregating, among other precautions. Council restricted booths to food only and said they are comfortable with the market’s modified operations.

Councilman Richard Johnson said council, as a governing body, is doing its part in protecting citizens. “People now need to take personal responsibility by doing their part in practicing social distancing and washing your hands if you have to leave the house,” he said.

In other discussion among council was golfing, which is not explicitly listed on the governor’s order as an essential activity but allowed as an exercise. Councilwoman Holly Smith expressed concern over non-island residents playing golf on Sanibel.

“I think if we could limit (non-island residents), and if (golf courses) are trying to limit, we could help them do that by saying it was members only,” said Smith. “That would be my preference. I think it’s safer for the island, safer for off island.”

Vice Mayor Mick Denham reported he had been in contact with the owners of Sanibel Island Golf Club who are discouraging non-members from playing there. Denham also reported he recently visited the SIGC golf course and was “very happy” with the procedures in place.

“My preference would be for (golf courses) to discourage off-island people from coming without having a ban,” said Denham, who will present a break-down of members and non-members for the April 7 City Council meeting.

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