Violations without consequences


There are over 600 licensed short-term vacation rentals (STRs) in unincorporated Lincoln County, covering approximately 950 square miles. County records show the total number of occupants allowed by licenses is 4,954, or an average of just over eight persons per rental; the actual occupant number is often higher. Many homeowners have personally observed renters not following the rules set forth by the county as related to occupancy limits, noise, cars, pets, garbage, etc.

I wondered how many fines have been issued and how many licenses have been revoked. The answer may surprise you. When asked, one of the county commissioners replied that they were not aware of any revocations. This licensing program was started in 2016.

So what is the process for dealing with complaints? Below is a summary of a portion of Ordinance 487, which explains the procedure for filing complaints:  

  • Attempt communication with the person listed as the contact person on the license.
  • Wait for contact person to respond and remedy.
  • If said response or remedy is unsatisfactory to either party, provide a written complaint to the Lincoln County Licensing Authority. Fill out the county online complaint form, wait.
  • Hypothetically go through mediation between the parties.  
  • Wait for written determination.
  • If the result is unsatisfactory, an appeal must be filed within 30 days by either party via written appeal to the Lincoln County Board of Commissioners.

At the end of this process, the complaint could be determined to be a violation and count as one strike toward the three strikes that result in the loss of license provision of the ordinance. Following the determination for either party, there is again time to appeal a license suspension decision — another 30-day period.

Sheriff Curtis Landers and Officer Holmes (currently assigned to monitor STRs) have both commented that currently they must observe a complaint or violation in order to take any action. However, even with observation they have little authority to do anything. They can’t issue a fine or citation or enter a rental to assess occupancies.

With a territory as large as Lincoln County, they are woefully understaffed — currently having only one dedicated enforcement officer, with issues occurring in multiple neighborhoods at the same time, throughout the county. If an issue occurs on a weekend, there is no officer available to witness the violation at all.

An enforceable fine schedule, including a “three strike” provision, needs to be adopted. Photographic evidence from neighboring residents (date and time stamped with a smartphone) should be acceptable to allow officers to resolve issues. The cost of enforcement should not be used as an excuse for non-action. Raise the licensing fees to adequately fund appropriate enforcement. We need to support our sheriff and enforcement officer by providing an effective way of handling complaints, streamlining the process and adopting a fine schedule that could be used by the officers to at least write a ticket.  

The current complaint process is ineffective and should be updated. There has to be a better way for neighbors to lodge complaints and get closure on STR issues.  

The county commissioners have repeatedly received this message from neighborhoods. Many examples of violations have been shared with commissioners as “violations without consequences.” Neighborhoods cannot coexist with STRs without proper enforcement of the existing ordinances.  

Provide the tools necessary to manage what, for some, has become an untenable situation.

I support 15neighborhoods’ petition to preserve our residential (zoned R-1, R-2) neighborhoods. Learn more about the issues and download the single-signature petition at www.15neighborhoods.com.

Barb Sulek is a member of the 15neighborhoods Steering Committee. She lives in South Beach.

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