State eyes PCB Councilman Solis’ rental business
June 22, 2017
Panama City Beach, FL
By John Henderson | News Herald Reporter
Solis self-reported to the state that he was lacking a required vacation rental license after a local real estate agent brought forth a complaint against his short-term rental business.
PANAMA CITY BEACH — An investigation into a bevy of complaints levied against Panama City Beach Councilman Hector Solis has revealed he operated his short-term rental business on the Beach for about four years without the required rental-condo permit.
The Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation is investigating allegations made by real estate agent Jessica Diliberto and at least one other person. Diliberto’s complaint alleges Solis is operating his HTS ventures short-term condo rental business without required state licenses. While the complaint didn’t specifically mention the rental-condo permit, Solis said he discovered he needed it after the complaint was filed and self-reported to the state DBPR. Solis and his wife, Traci, received the license June 2.
“As soon as allegations were made, we did further research and discovered a collective license is required under DPBR — Division of Hotel and Restaurants,” Solis wrote in an email. “It should be noted, during a phone call to DBPR, we self-reported that we did not have the license following the submittal of our application. Additionally, we also reported it to the Division of Real Estate ... It is our belief, that the majority of small property management businesses do not even know this license exists, as nowhere in the application for state registration to pay taxes does it request it, inform you of it, or give any direction about it.”
Kathleen Keenan, DBPR deputy director of communications, wrote in an email that failure to obtain the license “is a high priority violation and subject to administrative action.”
Asked whether the agency was taking action against Solis, she replied, “We cannot make a determination at this time. According to the Division of Real Estate, there are still two unlicensed activity complaints against Hector Mario Solis that are currently under investigation. When the investigation is complete, the cases will be forwarded to the Office of the General Counsel for attorney review, and they will determine how to proceed.”
Diliberto states in her complaint that there is “sufficient evidence” to show Solis is operating a property management company and “performing broker duties without a broker’s license as required by Florida law.”
“It is very serious,” Diliberto said. “If you operate without a broker’s license, that is engaging in real estate activity without being licensed.”
But Keenan wrote in an email that under the DBPR’s Division of Hotels and Restaurants rules, a person can manage short-term rentals by securing a vacation rental license and entering into a rental agreement with the unit’s owner without having to obtain a broker’s license.
“A licensed agent is someone that the property owner has authorized, through a rental agreement or contract, to hold out the property for rent on a transient basis,” according to a guide to vacation rentals and timeshare projects put out by the DBPR. “A licensed agent is not required to hold a license from the Division of Real Estate.”
In a recent interview in their beachfront condo, the Solises also presented copies of rental agreements with the owners of the rental units they are managing.
Solis noted Diliberto is making allegations, not statements of fact.
“Anyone can make allegations whether they have merit or not,” he said. “In this case, complaints were submitted to the Division of Real Estate, who don’t not even regulate short-term rentals. We have paid all transient rental taxes to the state, county and city from the first day of rental.”
Diliberto also states in her complaint that she believes Solis is not registered with the Florida Department of Revenue in order to be able to pay the required 6.5 percent state tax, 5 percent county tourist development tax and 1 percent city tax.
But the Solises also produced documents showing their rental units are registered with the Department of Revenue and documents showing they have been paying state, county and city taxes on their units. Solis said they sometimes pay the taxes early, but always on time. Mel Leonard, PCB planning director, said the couple have all of the required business licenses from the city and have been good about paying city taxes on time.
Diliberto’s complaint also alleges Solis failed to register HTS Ventures with the Department of Business regulation as required by Florida Statute 865.09 and failed to register a fictitious name with Sunbiz.org as required by Florida Statute 869.09.
“It is a Texas company, and it’s not licensed in Florida at all,” Diliberto said in an interview Thursday. “There is no company even licensed here under HTS Ventures, and he’s advertising it and he put on his candidate form, ‘HTS Ventures.’ You can’t advertise an unlicensed company like that.”
Keenan said, however, the Solises would not be required to create a new Florida company if they are operating a short-term rental company in Panama City Beach under their Texas company’s name.
“This is not a requirement of Chapter 509, Florida Statutes,” she wrote.
According to records on the state’s Sunbiz.org website, Solis’ application on June 9 to register the HTS Ventures LLC with Sunbiz.org was rejected. Late in the day Thursday, it was approved, and his Texas company became listed as one doing business as a Florida limited liability company. Solis said the state didn’t initially have all the paperwork needed to approve his application, and he and his wife registered the company with the state in the event the company needed to sue someone.
“That (filing was a) precautionary measure,” he said. “We still don’t believe we needed to do that. We did it in case we need to file a lawsuit in Florida.”