Short-term rentals cause concerns in Windermere Trails community

Residents in the Windermere Trails neighborhood are upset about numerous reported Airbnbs and other short-term rental services in the neighborhood.

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  • | 12:23 a.m. January 30, 2020
The home at 8269 Lookout Point Drive is one of two homes found in violation of Orange County code.
The home at 8269 Lookout Point Drive is one of two homes found in violation of Orange County code.
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One Horizon West neighborhood is searching for answers as a perceived influx of Airbnb and other short-term rental services has left community residents worried about their property values and quality of life.

It started with a few tell-tale signs: large groups of cars outside of homes and unfamiliar faces throughout the neighborhood.

“We moved here about three years ago, and as soon as we moved into the neighborhood, we knew something was a little bit different,” Windermere Trails resident Britt Beam said. “Moving to a new area, we didn’t know what to expect, and it seemed like everyone else was acting like it was normal and everything. We would see across the street these different 20-something-year-old kids coming in and out with suitcases all the time. We’re wondering, ‘Who are all of these people and why does every one of these houses that’s like this have like 10 cars out in front?’”

Beam said she and other neighbors soon realized these weren’t Windermere Trails residents — they were tourists, often coming home with MagicBands and Disney balloons. The homes were being listed under Airbnb and other services.

Windermere Trails resident Claudia Martinek, who has lived in the neighborhood for more than three years, said she also has noticed the short-term rentals — and it’s taking its toll on the neighborhood. Martinek has seen trash strewn all over within the pool area, as well as damage to the pool umbrellas and chairs.

“The people just come for a couple of days and party here — they don’t take care of anything,” Martinek said. “When you come to the pool with your kids, there’s sometimes hordes of people that you have no idea where they come from, because you know there’s not families around with 50 teenagers. 

“It’s our investment, it’s our neighborhood, it’s our property and the people that come here to party use it as a party house basically,” she said.



Angela Cacciola, president of the master and phase one Windermere Trails Home Owners Association, said steps have been taken to address the issue.

With three sub HOAs and a master HOA, there was confusion early about who should be addressing the problem, Cacciola said.

In early 2019, the association partnered with its attorney to send a notice restating its rules at the master association level, including that no area of a lot or dwelling shall be used for the purpose of renting rooms and that the neighborhood is not accepting any leases shorter than a year.

“According to our counsel, that then gives us the ability that if we see that there’s a short-term rental going on we can go through our attorney and they have a process for dealing with it in addition to calling the county,” Cacciola said.

She added the HOA continues to get tips about potential short-term rentals in the neighborhood — about one every six to eight weeks.

Orange County has been made aware of the issue, as well.

Robert Spivey, manager of Orange County’s code enforcement division, said short-term rentals are not allowed in single-family residential districts, including communities such as Windermere Trails. That includes “transient rentals” — defined as a single-family dwelling renting or leasing for 30 days or fewer, which is only allowed in multi-family districts — and “short-term rentals” — defined as hotels, motels and time-shares renting for 179 days or less, which is only allowed in commercial or industrially zoned areas in unincorporated Orange County.

According to a county frequently asked questions document about short-term vacation rentals, HOA regulations are allowed to be more restrictive than county code. If the county code allows a property as a vacation rental, but the HOA doesn’t, the HOA restrictions would prohibit the rental. However, the county isn’t responsible for enforcing any private HOA restrictions.

Spivey said there currently are four houses under scrutiny of violating the law in Windermere Trails. Two homes have been notified of proven violations and warned of potential fines, while two more houses have been reported by residents, but violations haven’t been proven yet, Spivey said.

There could be more, but Spivey admitted it is difficult to stay on top of every house listing online. Rather, it is up to the residents to report what they see, he said.

“They would have to hire me a dozen people — I’d have to have a housing division,” Spivey said. “Think about all of the listings out there. It would be an enormous task to try to go after these places. We do respond to complaints and generally we can figure it out.”

To have the biggest impact in getting rid of an illegal short-term rental, Spivey said residents should call 311 or use the 311 app and send code enforcement a screenshot of the short-term rental listing.

“When we have that, we can get a conviction,” he said. “People know that we’re looking — they employ deceptive practices. It may be that you can’t get to a physical address or a picture of the property until you actually use a credit card and reserve a unit. We’re in no position to do that. At any rate, the listings change. We have some difficulty sometimes being able to pinpoint, so when people see that listing, send it to us.”

Once Orange County determines a house is in violation, a notice is issued and the property owner can be subject to a fine of up to $1,000 a day, Spivey said.

Spivey noted that, although it can be a problem in some areas, the county has only issued about 100 notices over the past three years. It does typically happen more in West Orange, though, because of the proximity to the theme parks, he said.

Martinek said she hopes the county can help to intervene in the short-term rental problem in Windermere Trails.

“In one way, I feel really bad, because it’s probably someone who tries to have a livelihood — it’s just you have to do it the correct way,” Martinek said. “If you want to invest somewhere, you need to invest where it’s legal and not illegal. I do hope that something happens — if there is a law against having this here, somebody should make sure that the law is followed, because I try to follow the law.”

“The reason we invested in a house in Windermere particularly was because it wasn’t Kissimmee — Kissimmee is more touristy, there’s a lot more traffic, there’s a lot more people in and out,” Beam said. “It’s just a little disheartening.”

Spivey said Orange County Commissioner Betsy VanderLey is asking for a work session before the County Commission to discuss short-term rental issues. There is no date set yet, Spivey said.


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