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Photo courtesy Lee County Visitor and Convention BUreau.

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Vacation rentals to reopen in Lee, Charlotte counties

Sarasota and Manatee counties just had plans approved as well.

Short-term vacation rentals are once again allowed in Lee and Charlotte counties, and Sarasota and Manatee have a plan under review.

“This represents a lot of income for a lot of people who own property here,” said Lee County Commissioner Cecil Pendergrass. “Hotels and motels have been open this whole time, and a more transient group that comes for less of a stay.”

The tourism industry in Lee County delivered a $5.3 billion economic impact, reports the Lee County Convention and Visitors Bureau. Beaches in Fort Myers and Sanibel attracted some 4.9 million visitors last year alone.

But the coronavirus pandemic forced Lee County to close down its beaches at the height of spring break. Gov. Ron DeSantis early on shut down vacation rentals in an effort to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus from other states. Just this week, the state started accepting plans from counties to restore short-term rentals.

Lee and Charlotte were among eight counties to have plans approved on Wednesday.

Under the plans, there must be a long enough timeframe between guest stays for owners or property managers to clean and sanitize facilities, and there are strict regulations now on changing linens, cleaning surfaces and providing soap and sanitation goods for guests.

Pendergrass said he believes short-term rental properties will be more manageable in terms of maintaining safe and healthy environments. But he also acknowledged the county has no means of tracking compliance on scattered properties around the region, and that enforcement falls under the auspices of the Department of Health

Lee initially only allowed rentals to Florida residents, but got the clear from the state Thursday to allow visitors from states where there are few than 700 COVID-19 cases per 100,000 people.

“It’s obviously important to our economy,” said Lee County spokeswoman Betsy Clayton.

The. county still has restrictions on rentals to international travelers or those from states and localities with major outbreaks.

Social distancing guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention should be followed.

In Charlotte County, rentals likewise won’t be allowed for those from the now 19 areas identified by the Governor’s Office as COVID-19 hot spots. That restriction will be in place for the next 45 days. International visitors are not allowed at all.

The county will require signage at properties explaining CDC guidelines and sanitation expectations.

Parties of more than 10 are not allowed.

Both Sarasota and Manatee County officials have submitted plans to the state and hope to open rentals before Memorial Day weekend, reports the Sarasota Herald-Tribune. Those plans were approved on Thursday afternoon

Written By

Jacob Ogles has covered politics in Florida since 2000 for regional outlets including SRQ Magazine in Sarasota, The News-Press in Fort Myers and The Daily Commercial in Leesburg. His work has appeared nationally in The Advocate, Wired and other publications. Events like SRQ’s Where The Votes Are workshops made Ogles one of Southwest Florida’s most respected political analysts, and outlets like WWSB ABC 7 and WSRQ Sarasota have featured his insights. He can be reached at jacobogles@hotmail.com.

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