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Published: Thursday, 4/15/2004

Court backs right to rent out condo


MIAMI - Key West lost a property-rights challenge yesterday when a state appeals court decided a Toledo woman who owns a luxury condominium in the community could legally rent her unit even though the tourist city discourages weekly rentals.

The 3rd District Court of Appeal sided with Kathy Rollison, of 3165 Kenwood Blvd., saying she met all the requirements for rentals at the Truman Annex until the city cracked down with a new ordinance and regulations in 1998.

Ms. Rollison is married to Opie Rollison, a Toledo lawyer and a member of the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority board of directors.

Attorney Joseph Thacker, who argued the appeal for his sister-in-law Ms. Rollison, said they were "delighted" with the decision by the three-judge panel.

"The court's ruling is pretty clear that short-term rentals were allowed in Key West prior to 1998, and that people who were licensed prior to that time were grandfathered in," he said.

City Attorney Robert Tischenkel said he thought the decision was narrowly drawn and has no wider implications.

But attorneys who fought the city believe it could apply to about 450 homes at a complex that once served as Harry Truman's Winter White House and may affect short-term rentals in a city bedeviled by issues of growth control and tourism.

Jerry Coleman, a Key West real estate lawyer who supported Ms. Rollison's appeal as a friend of the court, represents 90 other Truman Annex owners. Condos in the complex sell for $500,000 and up.

He blamed the rental limits on a "change in political winds" in a community which he says is one of the most heavily regulated nationally in terms of development and property rights. The appellate court decision "just kind of goes back to old principles: The law says what it says, you reasonably interpret it, citizens rely on it," Mr. Coleman said.

The city now could face a pocketbook issue over lost rental income because Ms. Rollison dropped her claim for financial damages but kept the right to raise it again later.

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