Everyone loves a villa. You can live in one in style. You can rent it out to film a reality show, or you can turn it into a clinic.
Villas, it seems, have all sorts of uses, including serving as short-term vacation rentals. And in Caesarea, where this sort of usage is rampant, the neighbors are tired of the headaches.
The courts are hearing a number of complaints concerning short-term rentals. The apartments-for-hire business is bringing noise, nuisance, and even sexual escapades to the coastal Israeli city, and on weekends it's especially wild, say the neighbors.
Short term rentals have become increasingly common in Caesarea over the last 15 years. Owners who live most of the time elsewhere only need the property for a few weeks each year. And of course, everyone can use some extra cash – life in Caesarea doesn't come cheap – and what better way to make NIS 10,000 in one weekend than rolling up the carpets, locking the valuables away, and packing up the family for a visit to grandma?
Over the years, dozens of lavish villas sporting private pools, spacious yards, and bedrooms galore have become popular venues for families or groups to vacation together - or for loud parties that blast on well into the wee hours. These may include poker evenings, bachelor parties, or even swinging parties and orgies. This can pose a problem for families next door with young children.
Local government in Caesarea is unique. Unlike all other Israeli municipalities, which are managed by elected officials, this city is overseen by the Caesarea Development Corporation, a private organization.
Its role is two-fold: managing the community and caring for residents' needs while maximizing profits from land under its responsibility. The proceeds go to the Rothschild Caesarea Foundation, which is jointly administered by the state and the Rothschild family.
The Caesarea Development Corporation has a case pending at the magistrate's court in Hadera against local property owner and realtor Noa Elgar who, it alleges, repeatedly rented out the premises for parties, including noisy bachelor bashes. The corporation claims this violates a commitment signed by all Caesarea homeowners banning the use of their properties for commercial purposes.
But when homes are used for commercial purposes, the corporation's special structure is problematic, according to attorney Guy Eylon, its legal counsel. Unable to produce a court order under the business licensing law, the corporation is forced to initiate civil proceedings. These take much longer to drag through the courts and are less threatening, he says.
"In any case, I don't think the phenomenon is as common as it's made out to be," says Eylon. "Some people in Caesarea are naturally very sensitive to their standard and quality of life, but I don't think it occurs here any more than in Savyon or Herzliya Pituach."
But Eylon's reassuring words are lost on a resident suing a neighbor in the same court for hiring out the house for group vacations, parties, drinking, carousing, and orgies. The judge issued a temporary restraining order against renting out the property for short-term use and the case is now in the discovery phase.
"Unfortunately the Caesarea Development Corporation, which also acts as the local authority, isn't firm enough on this matter," says the resident. He says he was forced into taking action on his own when the corporation didn't step in. "All I got for my trouble was a neighbor who won't speak to me," he complains.
A resident describes the dilemma.
"You wake up Saturday morning and hear noises on the other side of your neighbor's fence. Suddenly you notice couples around the pool. And the noise is a nuisance the whole weekend long, especially during the summer. In the evening the entire street is blocked with cars. You feel like it's not your home anymore."
But noise and traffic are the least of the plaintiff's problems.
According Judge Nasser Jahshan, who summarized his statement, "His children are exposed to obscene scenes and physical and verbal violence from the parties held there, including parties with strippers and drunks, sometimes accompanied by loud screaming, profanity, and even sexual relations by the pool."
According to Miri Raveh, however, the heyday of wild parties in Caesarea is well past its climax. Raveh puts out a weekly newspaper, Caesarea News, which six years ago caused a stir by describing a local party held by several bachelors as being filled with drugs, sex, booze, and prostitutes swinging naked in the pool.
Since then things have calmed down, says Raveh. "Parties are still held now and then, but we're past the peak – partly because the Caesarea Development Corporation has very little tolerance for it," she explains.
From talking with local real estate brokers it appears that Caesarea's short-term rental market still offers dozens of properties. In many cases these don't belong to investors, says Raveh, but to families using their homes to boost income. "As opposed to what is generally thought, some families in Caesarea have also fallen on hard times and they see their homes as a way to make money," she says.
Despite those sentiments, it's doubtful that local authorities are behind the decline in short-term rentals. A more likely reason is that luxury villas for rent are now dotting the country.
"Anyone who thinks Caesarea is alone in experiencing this phenomenon is mistaken," says Maor Asaraf, proprietor of the vila4u.com website that offers hundreds of such properties throughout Israel. "Several years ago Caesarea was the epicenter for villa bachelor parties, mainly because there weren't very many other options. But in the last few years neighbors began complaining more and calling police and inspectors, and more and more homeowners have placed restrictions on use of their homes. The appeal of renting properties there – especially for bachelor parties – has been steadily declining."
Eylon rejects any claims that the corporation is lax about it. "When we're called, we take care of the matter," he says. "If we're not called in we have no way of knowing about it. In the last few months we haven't received any calls in this regard."
It's a homeowner's prerogative to rent his house as he pleases, says realtor Noa Elgar.
"Dozens, if not hundreds, of properties have been offered for rent in Caesarea through many brokers without the Caesarea Development Corporation doing anything about it," she says. "The case that was filed is an attempt to undermine homeowners' rights to rent out their properties by establishing a sort of illegal admissions committee for the community. It's an attempt to selectively enforce a contract that anyone interested in buying property in Caesarea must sign. It makes no mention of any prohibition on renting out the property."
At the root of the issue, she says, may be a power grab.
"The corporation's interpretation, as if it bans rentals, leads to its unbridled control over properties even after it has sold them and the illegal holding to a contract that violates the property rights of Caesarea homeowners. The very attempt to embroil the broker too in the case is pathetic, an illegal attempt to infringe upon freedom of occupation," she says.
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