Wellington’s council is ready to make some changes to rules governing vacation rentals in the village — including new penalties for operators who don’t follow those rules.
Citing “flare-ups” in some neighborhoods with short-term rentals that neighbors said were out of control, Planning, Zoning and Building Director Tim Stillings told Wellington’s council during a Monday agenda review workshop that his staff developed some possible changes to respond to residents’ feedback and council members’ concerns.
In particular, Stillings pointed to two vacation rental homes in the Sugar Pond Manor neighborhood on Barberry Court and Barberry Drive. Residents near those homes went to council meetings in May to vent their frustrations over the behavior of some guests staying in the pair of homes, which are owned by the same person.
The group of residents included documentation of their concerns, pointing to crowded parking, noisy gatherings, unruly visitors and possible illegal behavior at each house.
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Since then, Wellington has worked with the Barberry houses’ manager, and no issues have been reported to the village over the past three weeks, Stillings said.
State law prohibits local governments from regulating the frequency and duration of stays and vacation rentals, he said.
However, Wellington can regulate “just about everything” else, he said.
Which rules exist now?
Wellington’s code covers issues like property maintenance, noise and parking, he said. The vacation rentals ordinance passed by the council in 2020 created further rules for parking, limiting the number of cars that can be in the driveway overnight and the number of people who can be in the house. The ordinance also requires vacation rental owners to check to see if guests are on a national sex offender registry.
During their research, Wellington staff identified 439 short-term rental listings in the village with 247 unique units as of June 29, Stillings said.
The rules in 2020 were brought forward in response to issues Wellington had at the time with vacation rentals being used as party houses, a widespread problem in Palm Beach County at the time. 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 neighborhood streets late at night after the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office was called.
What could change?
Parking: Village staff are proposing a change to Wellington’s code that would apply to parking during social events, to further tighten those rules for all properties, including vacation rentals, Village Attorney Laurie Cohen told the council.
There is a possibility that the exception for social events would exclude vacation rentals, Stillings said.
More fees, registration: Wellington is considering creating a new vacation rental registration in addition to the business tax receipt already required, Stillings said. That would include an additional fee, he said.
“That way we can cover some of our expenses of managing the problem,” Mayor Anne Gerwig said.
New penalties: Wellington staff will look at ways to penalize vacation rental operators who do not follow the rules.
Boynton Beach is going through a similar process and may institute “varying suspension thresholds,” Stillings said.
“I think we should fully explore this option,” Councilman Michael Drahos said.
Gerwig cautioned staff against going too far in their proposal. “We want to make sure we strike the right tone,” she said, adding that she knows people who operate vacation rentals, follow the rules and have no issues.
“The good ones are not a problem at all,” she said.
“It’s just like anything else,” Drahos replied. “There’s bad apples, and they ruin it for everybody. But I think to the extent we have the ability to kind of weed out some bad apples, we should take advantage of all of our tools.”
Wellington’s staff will bring the proposed changes to the Planning, Zoning and Adjustments Board and then the Village Council at future meetings for review and approval.
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