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Boatbnb? Monroe County Says No, Fines Owner $2,500

The boat, docked behind Michael Dewitt's home on Little Torch Key, was offered for $111 a night.
Monroe County Code Compliance
The boat, docked behind Michael Dewitt's home on Little Torch Key, was offered for $111 a night.

If you look for vacation rentals in the Florida Keys, you may notice a lot of boats offered as lodging. Now Monroe County has brought a code compliance case against one of the owners.

Michael Dewitt says he's put $130,000 into fixing up his 40-foot sportfishing boat, docked behind his house on Little Torch Key.

So when a property manager approached him about renting it as a vacation rental on Airbnb, he agreed.

"It sat behind my house empty, I had a couple of neighbors that were doing the exact same thing - that are still doing the exact same thing," he said.

But Monroe County code compliance said Dewitt was breaking county rules that say you can't rent for less than 28 days without a special permit.

At a hearing Thursday, Special Magistrate J.G. Van Laningham found Dewitt broke the rules and fined him $2,500. Dewitt did not contest the charge, but said afterwards he thought the county's approach to vacation rentals was unfair.

His case came up after others, all of whom received multi-thousand dollar fines.

"There's no criminals in here. These are people just trying to make a dollar, to earn a living to do what it takes to get by," he said.

Dewitt says he has no plans to try to rent the boat out in the future.

"I've never received a dime for this. All the money went to the property management company and they still haven't paid out on it," he said. "It's just been a horrible, horrible fiasco."

County officials said they couldn't say whether they plan to bring more vacation rental cases against boat owners.

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Nancy Klingener covers the Florida Keys for WLRN. Since moving to South Florida in 1989, she has worked for the Miami Herald, Solares Hill newspaper and the Monroe County Public Library.
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