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FLORIDA KEYS, April 13, 2020 – With owners of vacation rentals in Monroe County violating the State of Emergency declared by Governor Ron DeSantis, Monroe County State Attorney Dennis Ward says the State Attorney’s Office will seek jail time for those who are convicted or plead out to doing so.
“In all of these cases during the State of Emergency,” he said.
As of April 13, three citations had been issued in Key West for violating the ban on short-term vacation rentals during the State of Emergency. Conviction can be punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a $500 fine.
Governor DeSantis declared the state of emergency on March 9 to address the threat of spreading the COVID-19 virus. On March 27, he put out another executive order that specifically addresses short-term vacation rentals. A vacation rental is defined as a rental that is “rented for periods of less than 30 days or one calendar month, whichever is less,” and which is advertised or held out to the public as a place regularly rented to guests.
Monroe County banned rentals of all non-residential lodgings except in certain circumstances, such as for health-care workers, effective March 22.
One violation in Key West was in response to a complaint that renters had moved into a vacation rental. The investigation showed that Vacation Homes of Key West had booked the rental beginning March 31 and also extended the rental. The renters cooperated with the investigation and were informed they could not stay.
In another case, the owner of a 70-foot yacht arrived at the A&B Marina on April 2. According to investigators, the vessel had attempted to dock at a marina in the county and was denied because of Monroe County’s emergency directive. It states that vessels can only dock to refuel, replenish supplies, or because of mechanical problems.
The vessel then rented a transient slip at the Key West marina. When questioned by code enforcement, the yacht’s owner, John Simard, allegedly said he’d booked the slip before the emergency. He then said he was having engine trouble. Key West Code Compliance placed him under quarantine on his boat and informed him he must not leave the vessel.
Later that night, police were called, complaining of a party on board Simard’s boat, and that people from the community had come aboard. At that point, Simard was told he must leave.
When enforcement officials followed up April 8, the vessel was still in the slip and Simard was cited. The next morning, Simard purchased a private slip and relocated the yacht.
In another case, Michael McMahon, who owns three properties in Key West, was cited for illegally renting through Air BnB. He is also charged with a city ordinance violation because he was operating without a transient rental permit.
McMahon is a repeat offender who owes the city about $1.2 million in fines, according to the city.