Miami Beach fighting back against illegal short-term rental properties

Airbnb, Homeaway listers face fines starting at $20,000

By Amy Viteri - Investigative Reporter

MIAMI BEACH, Fla. - Miami Beach is a world famous tourist destination that attracts millions of visitors every year. There are thousands of hotel rooms scattered along the beach, but tourists aren't always staying in them.

Instead, they're opting to stay in private homes, which are generally booked through websites such as Airbnb and Homeaway.

The catch is these short term rentals are also illegal in Miami Beach.

The city dictates that properties can't be rented out for periods shorter than six months and a day, with the exception of commercial zones in the city, including parts of Collins Avenue and some properties near Flamingo Park that were grandfathered.

"It's a for-profit, unregulated, unpermitted, uninspected business," Hernan Cardeno, the director of the Miami Beach Code Compliance Department, said.

Residents have complained about these short-term rent properties.

"We don't feel safe with this going on," Judith Samuels said. "With really hundreds of people coming in by  the busload throughout the night, clearly intoxicated, it's frightening."

Samuels said a house in her Sunset Island neighborhood hosted weekend parties for years, and oftentimes, the fun would go too far.

"One man came out of this house from across the street, shouting and threatening to shoot people, and turned to me and threatened to shoot me," Samuels said.

Cardeno said the trend of short-term lease properties has grown.

"This year, we're trending toward 400 investigations," he said.

In March, the city cracked down on short-term leases by increasing the fine for owners from $500 to $20,000 for the first violation. That amount doubles, then triples and keeps going up for repeat violators.

A Palm Island house was cited after the city found a group of eight people rented it for three days in May. The invoice lists Vivian Ortiz, with I Love Miami Condos LLC, but when Local 10 News went to the address, it led to a hotel, not an office.

An employee of the hotel said Ortiz doesn't work at the hotel but does get mail there occasionally.

Miami Beach has two officers who are tasked with tracking down these short-term lease violators, Cardeno said.

"We're playing whack-a-mole," Commissioner Michael Grieco said.  

Grieco is considering a bill to fine condo boards who turn a blind eye to these rentals.

He points out that tourists who stay at these short-term lease properties are sometimes charged tax, but since they're not staying in a hotel, those owners aren't paying bed taxes and resort taxes to the city.

Grieco said he doesn't know who is getting the tax money but "can tell you right now, we're not getting those taxes."

Miami Beach's code compliance hopes to hire three additional officers to focus on short-term rentals and hire them out off-duty for investigations. They now have the power, along with police, to vacate properties in some cases and, after repeat violations, have water and power cut to the property.

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