Article Courtesy of The Sarasota
By Zach Murdock
Published April 19, 2017
travel and short-term rental sites such as Airbnb grow in popularity and in
number of participating hosts, sorting out just what is allowed and where for
those renting their properties is a labyrinth of local rules.
Despite a new deal between Sarasota County and Airbnb to streamline collections
of the local tourist development tax, ensuring that the right taxes are paid and
zoning rules adhered to remains a tall order that is only getting more daunting.
Highlighting the site’s popularity, Sarasota was among the top markets in the
state for Airbnb rentals during this year’s spring training season, attracting
thousands of visitors to the area while the Baltimore Orioles were in town at Ed
More than 6,660 guests stayed with about 700 local hosts during the five-week
stretch of spring training games, earning those hosts more than $1.86 million in
rental income, according to a report issued by the company this week.
The surge in guests represented a 91 percent spike in guests over the weeks
before spring training and an almost 250 percent spike in guests visiting from
Maryland, which broke into the top-five most common guest origin areas,
according to the report.
Sarasota’s guest totals rank behind only 9,600 Airbnb bookings in Tampa, where
the New York Yankees train, and an enormous 37,447 bookings in Kissimmee, where
the Atlanta Braves train before they are expected to move to North Port in 2019.
Bradenton, where the Pittsburgh Pirates train, attracted just shy of 1,700
guests during the Grapefruit League’s schedule this year, according to the
report. About 300 Airbnb guests in that area earned $380,000 from those rentals,
and guests most often came from Pennsylvania.
The home-sharing and short-term rental company touted the report as proof the
service is “a foundational component of the local economies” of the spring
training cities as the company’s footprint grows across the state and country.
But it also serves as a glimpse into the growing popularity of online, mostly
short-term rental services like Airbnb and several competitors in Sarasota and
Manatee, even as local officials grapple with a smorgasbord of differing local
Until the county’s new Airbnb agreement takes effect May 1, it has been
incumbent on those renting their homes to know whether they must pay the tourist
development tax and calculate it themselves to cut a check for that amount to
the county every month, said Assistant Tax Collector Sherri Smith.
That system inevitably misses some people, either by accident or because they’re
dodging the tax, and the new agreement will fix that, she and Tax Collector
Barbara Ford-Coates have said.
In 2016 alone, Airbnb would have collected $355,000 in tourist development tax
for renters and the county, the company has said.
But even with the new agreement, local short-term rental rules are much more
complicated than meets the eye, Smith warned.
“What’s beautiful going forward is the county is going to get all those TDT
revenues from everybody who hosts or rents through Airbnb,” Smith said. “But
remember, that’s not all we’re talking about. There’s also VRBO, FlipKey,
Craigslist or just listing it in the newspaper.”
Hosts offering rentals through those other sites will still have to calculate
and submit tourist tax to the county, which also collects the tax for the
municipalities, Smith said. They also likely need to sign up to pay the county
and municipal — if within one of the city’s boundaries — business tax, she
But area planning officials warn it gets even more complicated because certain
short-term rentals are only allowed in certain zoning areas.
Sarasota County technically only allows rentals of fewer than 30 days in
multi-family residential areas on the barrier islands, such as a condo on Siesta
Key, for example, county spokesman Jason Bartolone said. Anywhere else in
unincorporated areas and rentals must be longer than a month, he said.
Similar 30-day rules apply on Longboat Key and in Venice, but Venice also
“grandfathered” existing short-term rental units into its rules and the
individual condominium associations can be even more strict in their deed
restrictions, officials from both municipalities explained.
The City of Sarasota allows rentals of all or part of single-family homes, the
way many Airbnb-style rentals are offered, for no less than a week at a time,
said Tim Litchet, director of the city’s Neighborhood and Development Services.
North Port has no such restrictions, but is considering looking at the topic in
an upcoming zoning code update, spokesman Josh Taylor said.
On top of those varying areas and rental limits, owners sharing a portion of
their home with renters must also be wary of losing their homestead tax
exemption, Property Appraiser Bill Furst warns.
Renting all or part of your home for more than 30 days per year could jeopardize
its exemption and could carry a 50 percent penalty and 15 percent interest for
any year or years the property was rented within the past decade, a recent news
release from Furst’s office explained.
The hodgepodge of rules makes for a difficult enforcement task.
County officials from code enforcement to the tax collector to the property
appraiser’s offices all collaborate when a new short-term rental host comes
forward, Smith said. They and officials in several of the cities also try to
police each of the websites to identify obvious rule breakers to attempt to
bring them in line with whichever rules apply, they said.
For example, Sarasota city officials work directly with Airbnb when a complaint
arises, usually from a neighbor, to try to get that particular rental listing
into compliance, Litchet said.
“It hasn’t been the problem here as it has been in other communities,” Litchet
said. “I’ve certainly read some stories that make you shiver a little bit.”
The few complaints the city has received were related to rentals in the Laurel
Park neighborhood, which staff now monitor closely for new rentals that don’t
meet the rules, he added.
“If you know somebody that’s renting, give us a tip; everybody that’s renting
should be paying their fair share,” Smith said. “It’s a lot about education.
Since the whole Airbnb thing came out and it was really on the radar, when we
have someone come forward, we talk them through all the steps and rules.”
“... Let them do the research if this is something you really want to do or