By Dan Moffett
Ocean Ridge commissioners wanted to crack down on nuisance rentals of single-family homes last year when they passed an ordinance that set new fees and registration requirements for landlords and tenants.
While the law has helped clean up the nuisance rentals, it also has created a bureaucratic mess, with more confusion and unintended consequences than commissioners thought possible.
Landlords have complained about getting socked with excessive fees. Tenants have complained about government invading their privacy. Most everyone — even town officials — has complained about not understanding exactly what the ordinance requires or how to enforce it.
“The ordinance that was passed went too far,” Mayor Geoffrey Pugh conceded, as the Town Commission met July 7 to try to repair the damage.
The law requires people who rent out their properties to register each unit at Town Hall and pay a $50 annual fee. It also requires the disclosure of renters’ identities, and that has raised concerns about privacy rights.
Commissioner Richard Lucibella, who won his commission seat in March, said he didn’t want to second-guess the work of the previous commission, but the ordinance made him feel “a little queasy” about intrusive town government.
“There were a couple people causing problems. It came up because it was an enforcement problem,” Lucibella said. “But you made the decision to get people to write their names down and give up personal information. You’re really confusing it. And now you’re trying to clean that up.”
Lucibella said the town had overreached and probably could have solved the nuisance problem simply by enforcing the ordinances already on the books. For years, town law has allowed homes to be rented for a minimum of 30 days and prohibited homes from being occupied by more than five unrelated persons.
Police Chief Chris Yannuzzi told commissioners that the registration ordinance appears to have significantly reduced rental violations during its first year. Town officials were surprised to learn from the registrations that Ocean Ridge has at least 90 units being rented.
“It’s not a matter of Big Brother or anything like that,” Yannuzzi said. “We’re trying to maintain order in the neighborhood — who’s coming in and who’s coming out, what are they doing there.”
Commissioner James Bonfiglio, who came to the commission with Lucibella in March, said the ordinance was accomplishing the goals the commission wants but “was a bit too intrusive.” He said commissioners shouldn’t repeal it but “tweak it a little bit to protect privacy.”
Chris Currie and Bob Weisblut, who both own multi-unit rental properties in the town, told commissioners the ordinance was unfair and ambiguous.
“I don’t remember the word ‘annual’ coming up in the initial law,” Weisblut said, referring to requirements that landlords would have to re-register and pay fees each year.
Currie argued that the ordinance makes renters “a subclass of second-class citizens.”
He said commissioners originally aimed at reining in single-family home rentals, then wandered off course and put unreasonable restrictions on properties designed specifically as rentals.
Town Attorney Ken Spillias proposed amending the ordinance to focus on registering property owners, not tenants, and charging a single fee. The commission agreed and told Spillias to make the changes and bring the amended ordinance back for review.
In other business, Spillias proposed amending an ordinance as a potential solution to the long-running concern over what to do about the 5011 building on North Ocean Boulevard.
Building owner Lisa Sivitilli is working on renovation plans for the town’s only commercial strip, a nonconforming-use property. Instead of writing new laws or changing the town’s comprehensive plan for the strip, Spillias believes it makes more sense to amend an ordinance that has been on the books for decades.
Commissioners concurred and told Spillias to bring them a proposed amendment.