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Town Council of Fort Myers Beach allows commercial lodging to start again May 15

By Staff | Apr 28, 2020

The Town Council of Fort Myers Beach voted Monday to allow hotels and vacation rentals to begin taking reservations on May 15, contingent on actions by Gov. Ron DeSantis regarding such short-term rentals.
DeSantis has already allowed hotels to remain open in the state as an essential business although the town has restricted hotels to only being able to remain open for business under certain exceptions. Short-term vacation rentals have been banned through April 30 by the governor.
Town Council voted in March to ban most commercial lodging reservations through June 26.
By a vote of 4-1 at Town Council’s special meeting Monday, hotels and vacation rental properties can begin taking reservations May 15 provided the governor allows it.
Mayor Ray Murphy said he was “OK with that.”
“This is one I feel we pretty much know where everybody is right now and I think we could probably move on this one.”
Beach Councilmember Jim Atterholt said commercial lodging businesses “are at a tremendous disadvantage” with neighboring communities particularly for Memorial Day weekend business.
Atterholt said that if DeSantis ends his Executive Order prohibition on short-term vacation rentals April 30 then Council could open up short-term vacation rentals on May 1. Atterholt said that prolonging the ban could become a question of survival for some businesses.
“I don’t think anybody expects the governor to extend that (ban on short-term vacation rentals) much longer than two weeks. He may not extend it at all. In order for our businesses to be competitive with our neighboring municipalities, I would respectfully offer a compromise that we open up reservations starting May 15 and then we revisit that May 1.”
The vote by the Council was a welcome sign of relief to hotel owners who were growing weary of the prolonged ban on their business.
“We are fine with this decision. Certainty is what was needed,” Pink Shell Resort owner Robert Boykin said.
“We have to allow these people to know there is light at the end of the tunnel,” said Councilmember Dan Allers during Monday’s meeting.
Allers said the initial 90-day order was too long.
“We need to give them a fighting chance.”
Allers also called for allowing the hotels and vacation rental owners to begin to accept reservations ahead of May 15 instead of waiting until May 15 to begin taking reservations.
“They have been waiting for us to talk about this for six weeks,” he said.
The Town Council will meet again on Friday to discuss other potential loosening of emergency declarations.
“It’s a good start,” Fort Myers Beach Chamber of Commerce President Jacki Liszak said of Council’s Monday vote. “It’s a huge relief. It will be super helpful to folks. It gives everybody some hope.”
Town Manager Roger Hernstadt said that as a condition to opening up, the town is asking lodging establishments to comply with “best practices” to encourage health and safety by “signing a pledge” and to enforce those practices. Hernstadt said vacation rental enforcement has been “extremely difficult” in the past.
Councilmember Billy Veach wanted to wait until after the governor’s task force finished meeting and DeSantis made an announcement April 30 before a decision was made by the Town Council. Murphy supported that motion though it failed by a 3-2 vote. Murphy ultimately supported the vote to open up taking reservations May 15 with check-in dates for May 15 by a vote of 4-1 which Veach opposed.
The measure also requires all deposits to be refundable with no change fees.