Owners and managers of short-term and vacation rentals in Wellington and Palm Beach County pushed back against criticism levied by neighbors earlier this month, saying at Tuesday night’s council meeting that they are doing all they can to comply with village and county rules and they want to be good neighbors and hosts.
The comments were in response to residents who spoke at the May 9 Village Council meeting. Those who spoke said they lived next to or near two vacation rental homes, one on Barberry Court and one on Barberry Drive in the Sugar Pond Manor neighborhood of Wellington, alleging the pair of properties in question have recently caused numerous issues thanks to unruly guests.
In comments to the council Tuesday night before the regular agenda — both sides of the Airbnb issue requested time to speak — property manager Zachary Trider said he feels the homes are under a “targeted relentless attack on our livelihood.”
As property manager for the two single-family homes in question, Trider said he is bombarded with messages around the clock, as neighbors accuse the homes’ owner and managers of being negligent.
“These claims are not only untrue, but slanderous,” Trider said, adding that he is disgusted by the “blatant discrimination” against guests who stay in the vacation rentals.
One of the allegations from neighbors involved three women who checked into one of the homes and did not come out during their stay, with a neighbor saying she believed there was prostitution happening. Trider disputed that allegation, saying all guests who book receive “top of the line screening,” as well as being checked against the lists required in Wellington’s short-term and vacation rental rules.
He noted that for someone to say the women didn’t leave at all during their stay, that person would have to watch the house through some kind of surveillance, asking council members how they would feel if, as a short-term rental guest, they were in that position.
“This, ladies and gentlemen, is the theme of these complaints,” he said.
Regarding claims that frequent parties take place at the homes, Trider told the council that Airbnb does not allow parties, and the property managers don’t want parties there.
“It’s made to be a vacation rental,” he said. “It’s not something that we want.” Parties cause damage, and the property management team is always looking for red flags that could lead them to cancel a booking, he said.
Trider lauded Wellington’s code team and the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office for working with him to help make sure the properties stay in compliance.
“We have resolved every single issue to the letter, that has been brought to our attention,” Trider said.
Among the guests who stay in the Barberry houses are Wellington residents, people who visit family in Wellington, people in town for business or equestrian or other sports competitions, and those who hope to move to Wellington and want to experience the area, he said.
Since hearing neighbors’ concerns, Trider’s team installed security cameras to monitor parking situations in real time, he said. On several occasions, he has caught parking violations and contacted guests to fix the issue. He said he also has seen and documented neighbors who violated Wellington’s parking rules.
In reviewing how they screen guests, Trider alleged that the only guests who have the sheriff’s office called on them are not white.
On a recent weekend, neighbors called PBSO because a guest’s children were being too loud in the pool, Trider said. The guests were Black, and told Trider they no longer felt comfortable after having the police called on them. They checked out early, he said.
The family was in town celebrating Mother’s Day and marking the anniversary of a child’s death, Trider said.
“How do you think that mother and kids felt as they drove away?” he said.
Trider said another recent guest who was celebrating a high school graduation left a review for him that said the neighborhood is racist. “Not the host, the neighborhood is racist,” he said. “Are you OK with neighbors acting in a way that makes visitors feel like that?”
While he defended the properties he managed, Trider acknowledged there are bad actors in the short-term rental world. In addition to working in management, Trider said he has his own vacation rentals. He has come up against opposition from neighbors in the past who are “mad about Airbnbs existing,” he said.
“We are very tired of the continued harassment we are experiencing,” he said.
Before Trider spoke, two community leaders for Airbnb in Palm Beach County addressed the council.
Brian Ross and Jana Rodriguez from West Palm Beach told the council they are available to help however they can to make sure problem short-term rentals don’t create larger issues in the community.
Rodriguez previously lived in Wellington for about 15 years and said she recalled an incident with a party at an Airbnb on Anhinga Drive in June 2019. “That was really hurtful for all of us,” she said. “And I want to assure you that Airbnb has changed a lot since that has happened.”
In 2020, Airbnb put a temporary pause on allowing parties. That pause was made permanent in 2022.
“Disruptive parties and events will continue to be prohibited, including open-invite gatherings. ‘Party house’ properties will continue to be strictly prohibited as well,” Airbnb said in a post announcing the party ban.
“As hosts and as stakeholders, we want to work with you to find common ground,” Rodriguez said.
Ross and Rodriguez spoke first, followed by two residents on Barberry: Carole Hoydick and Alina Armas. Then Trider spoke.
“For two years, I’ve been dealing with problems with the house next door to me,” Hoydick said.
An incident on Mother’s Day weekend was “disastrous,” she said. People yelled in the street, honked their cars’ horns and approached neighbors.
Armas, who also spoke at the May 9 council meeting, said the incident on Mother’s Day seemed to stem from the sheriff’s office being called to the house on Barberry Drive.
Armas was in her house that morning getting ready for a Mother’s Day celebration when she heard someone honking their horn in front of her house. She said that when she walked outside, a woman ran up to her “absolutely screaming” at Armas, “You called them. You called them.”
Neither Armas nor her husband had called anyone about the house, so she talked with the woman and explained that. The woman apologized, Armas said.
Once the woman was told Armas had not called anyone, the woman turned and went to Hoydick’s house, Armas said.
Armas, a longtime Kindergarten teacher in Wellington, told the council she was especially upset because her mother has cognitive issues. Armas and her family were looking forward to the Mother’s Day celebration because they felt she might be aware enough to know what they were celebrating.
“I couldn’t get that Mother’s Day back with my mom,” Armas said. “And it upsets me to where I can’t even tell you how sad and devastating that was, because this is something I can’t get back, ever.”
Armas said she isn’t against the short-term rental and she isn’t against celebrations, but it would be good to have communication with the neighbors.
“We are against our lives being just turned over like this for no reason. It’s not fair,” she said.
What can be done?
When it comes to regulating short-term and vacation rentals, much of Wellington’s ability to do so has been pre-empted by the state, Village Attorney Laurie Cohen said.
Wellington is unable to ban short-term and vacation rentals, and the village also can’t regulate the frequency or duration of stays, she said.
The current ordinance was adopted in 2020, “and we are enforcing that to the best of our ability,” Cohen said.
Mayor Anne Gerwig said she feels more could be done to deal with the issues raised by neighbors, specifically when it comes to parking and the number of people who can be at the rental.
Cohen said she would “bring forward some suggested language” for the council to discuss at a later meeting.
Past issues in Wellington
This isn’t Wellington’s first run-in with bad behavior at vacation rentals. In the couple of years before the COVID-19 pandemic, there was an issue with teens and young adults booking vacation rentals for massive parties throughout Palm Beach County. One party on Anhinga Lane that I covered for The Palm Beach Post in June 2019 led to one arrest and hundreds of teens walking through typically quiet streets late at night after the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office was called.
PBSO at the time said they will shut down the parties when they are called, and deputies can work with vacation rental owners to shut the parties down in advance if they have information beforehand.
When I reached out to Airbnb at the time, a spokesperson told me, “The reported behavior reflects a breach of trust that has no place on Airbnb, and we’ve reached out to the host to help them initiate a claim under $1 Million Host Guarantee. We’ve also suspended the booking guest’s account while we investigate further. There have been over half a billion guest arrivals in Airbnb listings to date and negative incidents are extremely rare.”
Since that incident, Airbnb banned parties.
The company also created a dedicated site where neighbors can report parties and other issues with one of their properties.
That and other incidents around the same time with parties at vacation rentals led Wellington’s council in 2020 to approve new rules around what the state says municipalities can control, including the number of cars in the driveway and the number of people in the house. The ordinance also requires vacation rental owners to check to see if guests are on a national sex offender registry.
If you suspect illegal activity at a vacation rental near you, call PBSO. If it’s an emergency, dial 911. Otherwise, call the non-emergency line at 561-688-3000. For Wellington’s Code Compliance team, call 561-753-2560 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
SIGN UP FOR MY NEWSLETTER!
Get on the list now for my Weekly Wellington Mom newsletter, delivered to your inbox every Wednesday morning with the latest news and things to do in Wellington and the surrounding area.