Homeowner, relative ticketed for letting family stay at beach house amid pandemic

Coronavirus

TAMPA (WFLA) – Florida vacation rental owners whose properties have been shut down during coronavirus are facing a new challenge in one Tampa Bay town — not even family can use their places.

Holmes Beach police say they are handing out citations to any new guests–and the owners of the vacation rental property–even if they are relatives, friends or anyone who is not paying to stay there.

Josh Engleman drove down from Chicago with his family on Saturday, hoping to socially distance while escaping the cold and some construction in his building.

The former St. Petersburg resident was excited to be back in the Bay Area. His cousin in Germany had just bought a house on Holmes Beach in December and was excited someone could use it.

On Monday afternoon, he got a knock on the door.

“I’m a law-abiding person,” said Engleman. “The last people I’d expect to show up are the cops saying we’re breaking the governor’s executive order by renting. I told them this is through family. We’re not renting.”

Engleman was cited with a 2nd degree misdemeanor for violating a governor’s executive order in Florida Statute 252.36, which carries penalties of up to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine.

Governor Ron DeSantis’ executive order forced all parties “to suspend vacation rental operations,” prohibiting them from making new reservations or bookings and accepting new guests unless they met certain criteria.

Excerpt from Governor Ron DeSantis’ Executive Order 20-87

Holmes Beach Police Chief Bill Tokajer said he checked with the governor’s legal counsel, and was told he is interpreting the executive order correctly — even for family members.

“You’re still checking in,” said Tokajer. “If you don’t live there, then you are a guest there. Checking in or not, [the executive order] says no new guests.”

Tokajer said they’ve handed out about 10 tickets so far.

Tokajer is not ticketing guests who are staying at homes that aren’t vacation rentals. Guests who meet the exemption criteria laid out in the governor’s executive order, such as those staying longer than 30 days, are also not ticketed.

Attorneys for Englemen and his aunt told 8 On Your Side the executive order shouldn’t apply to guests who aren’t paying, and if it does, it may violate the homeowner’s Constitutional rights.

“By limiting who can stay at a property, you’re really limiting one’s private property rights and what they can and cannot do with their property,” said Aaron Thomas of Najmy Thompson P.L.

8 On Your Side reached out to the governor’s office for clarification on the governor’s executive order. We will update this story if we hear back.

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