The owners of a Tavernier home illegally booked for vacation rentals dodged a pending code-violation penalty of more than $2.3 million after agreeing to a settlement.
Gilbert L. and Dalia Sanchez of Coral Gables will be required to pay $51,525 in a deal approved by the Monroe County Commission and county attorneys.
“We are very sorry for this,” Dalia Sanchez told commissioners at their meeting Tuesday in Key West. “We’ll certainly never do this again, renting out our property.”
The Tarpon Street oceanfront home, with a dock and pool, was purchased by the Sanchezes in 2007 for $2.08 million, according to county property records. At the time, the home was assessed for school-tax purposes at $1.6 million; the current assessment is $895,620.
The vacation-rental case dates to August 2010, when the owners were first fined $2,000 for advertising and making a vacation rental (less than 28 days) in an unapproved area. They paid that fine but not $360 in county staff costs.
In September 2011, they were cited as repeat violators of the vacation-rental law. That fine was $15,000. The Sanchezes appealed the fine but their petition ultimately was denied. In the meantime, fines of more than $1,000 per day continued to accumulate to the point where they owed $2,317,469.
“What became abundantly clear during mediation discussions is that the Sanchezes were not kept apprised of the legal peril and financial risk they were placed in during the course of their appeals,” Assistant County Attorney Steve Williams wrote to commissioners. “It is only upon the advice of their [former] counsel that the fine went unpaid and the fines began to accrue to such vastly large sums.”
The couple’s current attorney, Robert Cintron Jr. of Key West, told commissioners, “I inherited this nightmare from another lawyer…. The fines built to such a massive amount, it was shocking.”
The revised fine will “be very painful to my clients” who also must pay their own attorneys, Cintron said. “This is far in excess of any benefit they derived from the short-term rentals.”
He noted, “They did this [rental violation] twice; we’re not trying to suggest it was an accident.”
In a discussion that did not directly reference the Sanchez case, commissioners urged county staff to proceed more quickly on code cases to avoid situations where daily fines continue to accrue.
“Fines may total $1.5 million for a piece of property that may be worth 20 percent of that,” Commissioner David Rice said. “In a sense, we’re doing these people a favor by moving the process so they don’t sit there doing nothing until they’re looking at a catastrophe.”
Assistant County Administrator Christine Hurley, in charge of growth management, said newer cases are being followed, with efforts underway to clear a years-old backlog.
County Attorney Bob Shillinger reported that in an Oct. 28 hearing, the county’s special magistrate for code cases imposed fines totaling $103,185 in 20 adjudicated cases of vacation-rental violations.
Kevin Wadlow: 305-440-3206