The lucrative marina market has prompted some waterfront homeowners in unincorporated Palm Beach Gardens to lease their boat slips for as much as $800 a month.

The problem: It is a violation of the county’s zoning code, which prohibits anyone from operating a business in a residential zone.

The county’s Code Enforcement Division has cited eight homeowners for operating illegal marinas; seven for building and or extending docks without permits. The homeowners face fines of $250 a day if they continue to rent their slips or fail to obtain the necessary permits. A magistrate will hear the cases in November.

Some homeowners have built as many as five boat slips. Others advertise their slips on websites.

A number of marinas on valuable waterfront property have sold to developers, creating a shortage of rental boat slips. Renting of private docks often goes unnoticed and, as long as there are no complaints, the waterfront homeowners get away with it.

But the county received numerous complaints about private boat slip rentals on Harbor Lane and Paradise Point Road, according to Robert Santos-Alborna, the county’s director of code enforcement. Some of the boat slips are home to boats as long as 55 feet.

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Complaints include:

  • Too much boat traffic on the waterways, making it difficult for boaters to navigate in and out of their docks.
  • Increased traffic congestion along Paradise Point Road, a road that is not wide enough to comfortably handle traffic in both directions.
  • Thefts.

“Once this was brought to our attention, we had to react,” Santos-Alborna said. “This activity impacts on the quality of life in the region.”

Mark Ercolin, a Fort Lauderdale-based maritime lawyer, said waterfront homeowners have asked him about leasing their boat slips.

“What happens if there is an accident?” he asked. “There’s a liability problem here. Insurance won’t cover the accident because it is illegal to lease the boat slips in the first place. We have owners of million-dollar-plus homes putting all that at risk.”

Another issue is that the contract is unenforceable, he noted. If the boat owner doesn’t pay or damages the docks, there’s no legal recourse, Ercolin noted. He said he is actually in favor of allowing private rentals of boat slips. But as long as zoning code does not permit it, it should not happen, he said.

Ray Graziotto is president and owner of Seven Kings Holdings, a company that operates a number of marinas in South Florida, including the Loggerhead in Palm Beach Gardens.

Graziotto noted that marinas are heavily regulated and are required to contain oil spills with booms. He questioned whether private dock owners leasing out their spots have such safeguards. Any increased risk to the environment is not a good thing, he said.

The homeowners cited for operating illegal marinas are all assessed as private residences. They do not pay any extra property taxes, even though they are allegedly receiving money from their boat-slip leases.

Graziotto said marinas such as his have seen property taxes skyrocket in recent years. It is one of the reasons why marinas have shut down and sold to developers.

© 2019 The Palm Beach Post (West Palm Beach, Fla.), Mike Diamond. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.