Updated, 1:20 p.m., Sept. 20: Miami Beach special master Enrique Zamora doled out big fines for short-term violators on Monday.
The special master determined that the 33 cases heard on Monday broke the city’s regulations, and gave the violators 30 days to 120 days to pay more than $105,000 in fines for 13 properties. The special master’s ruling can be appealed to the circuit court, director of Code Compliance Hernan Cardeno told The Real Deal.
In December, the city commission voted to increase short-term rental fines, which previously ranged from $500 to $7,500, to first-time citations now starting at $20,000, then doubling and tripling for subsequent violations. Code currently allows for vacation and short-term rentals in specific zoning districts and bans them in all single-family homes.
Last month, the city announced that 106 short-term rental cases were fined a total of $1.59 million from March to mid-August. Because advertising an illegal short-term rental is also against city code, companies like Airbnb, Homeaway.com and Booking.com were also cited in a number of those cases.
The special master heard from a number of property owners on Monday during two sessions, including Euroamerican Group Inc.
Zamora ruled that Euroamerican Group, which was issued two $20,000 citations, has to pay the $40,000 by Dec. 19. A spokesperson for the owner said the owner does not allow short-term rentals, and he wasn’t aware of the tenants subleasing the apartment at 31 Venetian Way in Belle Isle.
The code officer on the case presented a Homeaway.com listing as evidence that the apartment was being rented on a short-term basis.
But Deputy City Attorney Aleksander Boksner said that not knowing is not a viable legal defense. “It sounds to me more or less like it’s an ignorance of the law defense. If that’s the only argument that’s being made that’s not a legal argument the special master should [entertain],” Boksner said.
He also said the new fines were advertised at three public hearings. “This is not something that should surprise anyone,” Boksner said.
At 60 West Rivo Alto, the corporation that owns the house was fined $20,000 after a code officer responded to a noise complaint and discovered the people in the house were staying there for four nights via an email confirmation the renters provided. A Trulia listing shows the house is for sale asking $9.9 million. It’s been on the market for about three months.
Some of the cases were exempt from the $20,000 fine because the violations preceded the new regulation, and the special master would determine the fine, if any.
The fines will be used to cover the cost of enforcing short-term rental regulations, City Manager Jimmy Morales told TRD via email. They will also be used to support efforts to address affordable housing and homelessness with the commission’s direction, Morales wrote, as “short term rentals are often viewed as a threat to the stock of affordable housing.”
Cardeno said the cases heard on Monday were selected based on the time in which alleged violators appealed them, and that the next hearing is set for Oct. 24. On Monday, Two cases were not heard, one was continued and one was re-set for a future date.