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6 mistakes to avoid as an owner of vacation rental in Marathon, FL

Vacation rental sign

The market for vacation rentals in Marathon, FL is booming, and for good reason.

  • Firstly, Marathon, FL continues to attract thousands of visitors each year. It has been named by the travel review platform, TripAdvisor, as one of the country’s Trending Destinations for 2024.
  • Secondly, it’s one of the few municipalities in the Florida Keys to allow weekly rentals, as opposed to the month-long stays that are more standard in the area.

These circumstances have created a healthy space for short-term rentals to flourish, with data analytics site AirDNA giving the city a market score of 82 or a Great rating.

With demand at a high, getting a piece of the pie is an enticing prospect. The question is, how do you set yourself up for success in this arena? You can start by learning about common vacation rental property mistakes and how to avoid them.

6 mistakes to avoid as an owner of vacation rental in Marathon, FL

Mistake #1 • Neglecting due diligence
Mistake #2 • Ignoring local regulations
Mistake #3 • Operating without a license
Mistake #4 • Overlooking safety and liability concerns
Mistake #5 • Disregarding maintenance
Mistake #6 • Insufficient listing strategies


Paper with words due diligence and charts

Some property owners commit these due diligence mistakes when starting a vacation rental business.These become the root of many major problems they face down the line.

Choosing the wrong location

Due to zoning laws, not all areas can cater to vacation rentals. Monroe County, where Marathon, FL is located, defines a vacation rental as any unit that is open for tenancies of less than 28 days. A complete list of zoning and land use districts, with exceptions and special requirements, is available on the county website.

Finding out whether your target location within Marathon is in the right zoning district should be the first thing on your checklist. Once confirmed, you can assess other location factors like proximity to amenities and attractions, as well as the community vibe.

Skipping market analysis

There are several factors that influence rental potential. By ignoring these factors, you deprive yourself of insights into market opportunities that will make the investment worth your while.

Seek out the following information for an effective market analysis:

  • Rental trends. Key data include average daily rates, occupancy rates, revenue per available rental, maximum monthly revenue, booking lead time, and length of stay. These statistics are good indicators of demand, as well as the performance of current vacation rentals in the area.

  • Seasonality. While the sun-drenched shores of Marathon make it an ideal vacation spot for pretty much the entire year, climactic and institutional factors still drive peak and off-peak seasons. You must evaluate rental trends within this context to gain an accurate picture of the market, and account for the expected spikes and dips in your overall business and financial plan.

  • Competition. Take a look at the listings within the area to see what kind of properties you’ll be up against. Industry buzz has more people gravitating towards luxury vacation rentals and unique stays, so perhaps this is a gap you can address.

Underestimating costs

One of the biggest vacation rental property mistakes made by aspiring landlords is not understanding all the costs of the venture before going all in. As a result, they go over budget from the onset, making it difficult for the business to find its financial footing.

You can use this cost overview to set a more pragmatic budget.

  • Property ownership costs. These include the down payment on the property, closing costs, mortgage payments, property tax, and insurance premiums.

  • Start-up costs. To prepare the property for rentals, you will need to spend on furniture, appliances, decor, and other fixtures, as well as renovations, landscaping, and other services. Any fees for initial license and permit applications should also be part of the budget.

  • Operational costs. Payments for utilities, supplies, cleaning services, maintenance, property management, and other everyday costs come under this category. Also included are the renewal fees for licenses and permits.

  • Contingency costs. It’s important to have extra funds set aside to cover expenses when something unforeseen happens. Some examples include any sudden major repairs or the costs of basic upkeep in case the property goes untenanted for an extended period.


Regulations Concept with Wooden Blocks in Red Color

While there are state-wide mandates that apply to all short-term rentals in Florida, much of the regulation is still carried out at the local level. What is true in one jurisdiction may not be true in another so it’s quite easy for property owners to get confused. Misalignment with any of the regulations can lead to hefty fines, and in some cases, license suspension or revocation.

Vacation rentals in Marathon, FL must abide by these standards:

Basic requirements

  • A property must be rented out for a minimum of seven days, unless it is under a homeowners’ association that states otherwise. The maximum length of stay is 28 days.
  • The unit must have an operational landline telephone.
  • There must be a certified vacation rental agent, which can be the owner or a separate agent.
  • The property must be cleaned at the start of a new tenant’s lease.
  • Each unit must only have one kitchen.
  • Vacation rentals must be in compliance with state tax, safety, health, and environmental protection laws.

Mandatory information and communications

  • The following information must be posted adjacent to the front door at all times: a list of the rules and regulations and the license of the vacation rental.
  • The vacation rental agent must maintain a list of registered tenants, as well as the number/make/model of all vehicles and watercraft used by the tenants.
  • There must be a written lease that notifies the tenants regarding Section 8 of the city’s municipality code and the consequences should any violations occur.


  • Maximum occupancy = number of bedrooms x 2 + 2. For example, a 2-bedroom property = 2 bedrooms x 2 + 2 = 6 people
  • Age is not considered in occupancy. A baby is still counted as one person.
  • Only the maximum limit of persons can stay on the property overnight.


  • No docked or parked vessels or vehicles, including recreational vehicles, can be used for sleeping.
  • Street parking is not allowed, unless it is a common practice in the street.


  • Quiet hours are strictly between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m.


  • Each vacation rental unit should have at least four covered trash containers that can only be taken out the night before trash collection and must be taken back inside the following day.


  • Advertising a vacation rental without a valid license is prohibited.
  • The vacation rental property license number must appear on all advertising collateral, whether physical or online. In the case of online advertising, the license number must appear on the home page for the vacation rental.


Woman makes hotel reservations via the internet

In light of the growing market and pressure from the community, the city of Marathon has continuously ramped up efforts to police non-compliant vacation rentals, including those operating without the necessary licenses. Violations are subject to a $500 fine per day/unit/violation, and leaves you open to legal proceedings as well, so the costs will rack up if your documentation is not in order.

License requirements

  • Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) license. This is the standard business license in the state of Florida. The specific license you need depends on the type of property you intend to rent out. The DBPR classifies vacation rentals as either condos or dwellings.

  • Marathon City vacation rental license. This is the license issued by the city for the property.

  • Marathon City vacation rental agent license. This is the license issued by the city for the owner or property manager/local contact assigned to the vacation rental.

Application process

New applications

  1. Gather all supporting documents:
    • Warranty deed or property record card
    • Detailed site and floor plans
    • DBPR license
    • State tax certificate
    • Monroe County business tax receipt
    • For corporations only: Certificate of good standing
  2. Fill out the application form, then have it signed and notarized.
  3. Pay the corresponding fees.
  4. Complete the fire inspection. In case of failure or no-show, a $150 re-inspection fee will apply.
  5. After passing the fire inspection, the city will issue the vacation rental license.


Vacation rental licenses are renewed annually and must be submitted for review 30 days prior to the expiration date.

Agent applications

Agent licenses are valid for two years for owners who act as their own rental agents and one year for separate property managers and local contacts. Applicants must undergo a mandatory training course.

Transfer of agent or ownership

If a change of vacation rental agent is required, you must file for a transfer of agent with the city. A change of ownership, however, requires a new application altogether as licenses for vacation rentals in Marathon, FL are non-transferrable.


Safety is another area where vacation rental management mistakes must be avoided at all costs. Apart from ensuring compliance with mandatory standards, taking proactive safety measures improves tenant experience and also allows you to protect your investment.

Here are some safety tips for your vacation rental.


  • Install a security system. Safeguard your property from breaches and other potential hazards by setting up a security system. Apart from cameras and warning systems, you can also install other smart tech features like keyless entry, smart doorbells, as well as noise and Wi-Fi monitors to align with Marathon city regulations.

  • Conduct sufficient guest screening. Doing a quick check on social media or simply relying on the screening process of booking platforms isn’t foolproof. There are tools offered in the market that do more comprehensive background checks.

General safety

  • Ensure that exteriors are well-lit. Avoid slips and falls by installing sufficient lighting in your porch, outdoor walkways, pools, and other exterior areas.

  • Include safety supplies. A first aid kit is standard, but you can also provide extra supplies like flashlights, batteries, and other emergency provisions depending on the property type.

Fire and carbon hazard safety

  • Keep fire extinguishers certified. Certification must be done annually and is a requirement to pass the inspection conducted by the city upon license application or renewal.

  • Have a fire escape plan. Normal safety precautions dictate that there must be two ways out of each room. Guests must be briefed regarding emergency escape routes and evacuation protocols.

  • Install fire, smoke, and carbon monoxide alarms/monitors. There are systems that send advanced warnings so prompt action can be taken against potential electrical fire hazards. Meanwhile, smart options for smoke and carbon monoxide detectors are also available.

Pool safety

  • Follow pool safety codes. Florida has very specific standards for pools in residential areas, which includes barrier requirements.

  • Employ additional safety measures. Activated pool alarms send an alert when a large object enters the pool. As for water quality, you can attach special pH strips that connect to an app which lets you know what and when chemical treatments are necessary.

Routine safety inspections

  • Schedule safety inspections at least twice a year. Make a checklist of all the safety considerations that must be checked and immediately follow through with any corrective action. It’s also advisable to inspect the property before and after extreme bad weather or any other circumstance that might compromise its safety.


  • Get comprehensive coverage. With all the things that can happen outside of your control, it’s best to have vacation rental insurance to fall back on. Make sure the policy includes damage insurance that covers both the contents of the property, as well as structural damage. Some policies also offer physical injury coverage in the event that guests come to harm while in the premises.


Caucasian man observing the kitchen cabinet he assembled

Maintenance is a key part of running a vacation rental business. You don’t want to drop the ball here as it is directly tied to the success and reputation of your property.

Why regular maintenance is important

  • Tenant satisfaction. Your guests expect a clean and safe home that has working amenities. The opposite will sour their experience and increase the likelihood of a negative review. This, in turn, affects future bookings.

  • Cost savings. Long-term exposure to the elements and repeated use over an extended period will take its toll on the property. With regular maintenance, you can preserve the condition of your vacation rental and keep major repairs or replacements at a minimum.

Vacation rental maintenance tips

  • Execute a cleaning checklist and schedule. To ensure nothing is overlooked, create a to-do list for each area of the rental. Categorize tasks into weekly, monthly, and yearly schedules.

  • Check furniture and fixtures. Look for visible signs of wear and tear and address as needed. Tighten loose screws and oil hinges of doors, cabinets, and cupboards.

  • Test appliances and systems. Make sure appliances are in working condition. Do a run-through of HVAC, drainage, waste disposal, and security systems.

  • Inspect for structural damage. Check the walls, columns, ceilings, and the roof for signs of distress.

  • Scan for infestations. Be on the lookout for budding pest, termite, and mold infestations.

  • Carry out special maintenance requirements. Many vacation rentals in Marathon, FL are on the waterfront or nearby. These properties have unique maintenance needs like exterior waterproofing, humidity and erosion control measures, and more rigorous cleaning.


The last mistake is one that a lot of property owners fail to consider, but is also one of the easiest to correct: not spending enough time on the listing.

Most guests find vacation rentals on the internet, so it’s important to paint your property in the best light on listing platforms and other places online. Here’s how:


  • High quality marketing collateral. Providing superior images of the property cultivates trust in the accommodations you provide and taps into the aspirational side of vacation travelers. Videos and visual tours are extra content that can also make your property more desirable.

  • Accurate and well-written descriptions. Include a complete overview of amenities and emphasize the property’s best features. However, don’t overdo it to avoid disappointing guests. Keep the copy free of typos and grammatical errors as well.

  • Supplementary efforts. Consistent marketing on social media will also boost listing performance. In addition, you can take advantage of booking platform features like curated itineraries and suggested local experiences to make your listing stand out.


  • Offer an introductory price. As a newbie rental owner, you should check what your competitors are charging and set a lower rate initially. You can adjust rates once the property becomes more established and/or you’ve garnered a trove of positive reviews from your guests.

  • Set competitive rates. Look into different pricing strategies that will allow you to remain competitive through market fluctuations, seasonal changes, and other factors that affect demand. Lower prices are not always the answer, as many tenants also consider value for money.

  • Use pricing tools. There are a lot of moving parts to keep track of so it’s advisable to automate when possible. This way you can effectively monitor pricing trends and take action when necessary.


  • Make timely updates. Make sure to update your listing as soon as possible in case there are any temporary or permanent changes to your property.

  • Be clear and responsive. You don’t want to lose out on any business by responding to inquiries late. You should also communicate clearly so guests know exactly what to expect when they arrive. These are general good practices that should extend beyond the listing and apply to the day-to-day management of the property.


Ready to seize the opportunities offered by vacation rentals in Marathon, FL? It all starts with finding the perfect property.

Top Florida Keys Realtor Angel DiGiorgio and her team have helped numerous clients do just that. With their personal familiarity of the area and years of hands-on experience in the luxury and investment real estate business, they are exactly the kind of partners you want by your side in this journey.

Get in touch with Angel DiGirorgio today at 305.619.0172 or send her a message here.