They dealt in illegal Keys rentals during coronavirus pandemic, police say. Now they face charges

Gwen Filosa
·3 min read

Key West police issued citations to two more people they said were dealing in illegal vacation rentals, which were shut down by the county and the governor as part of closing hotels to tourists during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“This will not be tolerated,” said City Manager Greg Veliz. “It cannot continue. The directives we’ve enacted are difficult, but they’re absolutely necessary to ensure the safety of our community’s health.”

Paige Bethel, 28, of Vacation Homes of Key West, was cited for booking a rental starting March 31 and then extending the rental.

A special police task force on Wednesday said the company violated the governor’s emergency directive against renting to tourists.

The renters cooperated with the investigation, said city spokeswoman Alyson Crean, and were told they could not stay.

“If they do, they, too, could be subject to arrest,” Crean said.

But the owners of Vacation Homes of Key West said the allegation is based on incorrect information and that the rental was a monthly one and not a new booking.

“The rental — actually the extension of an existing rental — was pre-approved by the city manager’s office prior to the extension,” wrote Richard Klitenick, whose family owns the company, in an email to a Miami Herald reporter.

“There was a clerical error with some paperwork during these unprecedented times which caused confusion,” Klitenick wrote.

Jim Young, the city’s director of code compliance, said he wouldn’t comment on the case.

Teo Masters, director of operations for Vacation Homes of Key West, said the couple in the rental are in their 60s and the wife has medical issues. The company moved them to a new property because the owner was coming home to the one they had been staying in, Masters said.

Masters said she got permission from the city manager’s office to extend the contract.

“We know we did the right thing,” Masters said.

He rented out an Airbnb during the coronavirus crisis, and police say that’s a crime

On March 22, Monroe County ordered all hotels to close, as a way to keep non-residents out of the Florida Keys during the pandemic.

The order extended to vacation rental units where guests stay fewer than 28 days, and short-term rentals in RV parks.

A week later, Gov. Ron DeSantis issued his own order suspending any new short-term vacation rentals for two weeks.

Violating the order amounts to a criminal offense.

Veliz said, “If people continue to rent illegally, you will see more arrests.”

In the second case handled Wednesday by police, the owner of a 70-foot yacht was busted after having a party on his boat.

John Simard arrived at A & B Marina on April 2. But his vessel was turned away because of Monroe County’s emergency directive that says vessels can only dock to refuel, replenish supplies or due to mechanical problems.

Simard then rented a transient slip at the Key West city marina, telling code compliance officers he had booked the slip before the COVID-19 pandemic, police said.

Simard said he was having engine trouble. Key West Code Compliance placed him under quarantine on his boat and informed him he must not leave the vessel.

Later, police were called to the report of a party being held on Simard’s boat. At that point, Simard was told he must leave.

When enforcement officials followed up Wednesday, the vessel was still in the slip and Simard was issued a notice to appear.

On Thursday morning, Simard purchased a private slip and is in the process of relocating the boat, Crean said.