Ocean Springs is planning to issue a notice of violation to resident Scott Walker after a neighbor claimed he illegally rented out his home to a group of people last weekend, Mayor Connie Moran said Thursday.
Scott Walker initially told news website GulfLive.com the group were college football players and that they were not being charged to stay there, but he backtracked when media reports pointed out it would be a violation of NCAA rules to provide free housing to enrolled college athletes.
He later told the news website they were actually former members of the Mississippi State football team.
He had told the Sun Herald last month he planned to rent out his home, a revelation that caused a stir in the community because he and his wife did not yet have a permit to do so. The city also has capped permits for short-term rentals at 35 and at least 35 applications have been submitted, the Sun Herald reported in March.
This caused the city to send the Walkers a "cease-and-desist" letter until they are cleared to rent out the property.
Scott Walker's wife, Trinity, told the Sun Herald on Thursday last weekend's group was allowed to stay rent-free, which would negate the need for a permit.
Trinity Walker told the Sun Herald her husband, who is a big Ole Miss fan, made a mistake when he called the men "college football players," and was joking when he said they were former Mississippi State football players.
"He said it as a joke because he doesn't like State," she said. "You don't need to joke with the press.
"The (initial) comment was greatly misconstrued. Scott shouldn't have worded it that way, but he did. I hate it turned into a big hoo-ha. Scott talks a lot. He doesn't always use the right words. I guess because he is an Ole Miss fan everybody obviously assumed that. It's not correct at all."
Trinity Walker said the couple had chatted briefly when the men showed up to stay at the house, noting they looked like former football players.
"When they arrived on Friday, we greeted them, because they were at our home," she said. "We briefly talked and joked with them about being college football players because of their stature. There were no details, no other conversation. It was a very brief conversation. Then of course, when (Scott Walker) mentioned (they were college football players), it turned into a frenzy. It shouldn't have been worded that way."
Ocean Springs' rental ordinance also applies only to stays of 30 days or fewer.
"We knew we could only rent for 31-plus days, but we had already spoken with this group," Trinity Walker said. "We had tentatively scheduled for them to come and stay. In the meantime, we were put on a short-term-permit list and we are waiting for our permit. We didn't want to call and cancel (on the group). We wanted to let them stay, but they didn't pay us."
The neighbor provided photos to the city showing a group of men and women at the Walkers' house, Moran said. The mayor said the people told the neighbor they paid $750 to stay two nights.
Moran said once the Walkers receive a notice of violation, it will be a matter of "our word against theirs."
The Walkers continue to run an advertisement at fourthirtyfiveweddings.com saying their house is for rent for weddings at a rate of $2,000 a day or $11,000 a month.
On airbnb.com, they advertise their house at $475 per night for a minimum two-night stay.
Trinity Walker said Thursday they had updated their vrbo.com posting to allow only rentals of 31 days or more. Prior to the update, she said they had received reservations for fewer than 30 days and are honoring them for free.
She also said she hopes the Board of Aldermen will increase the number of short-term rental permits.
"Should the Board of Aldermen see fit to up the number of permits then we will continue with our short-term rental application," she said. "We are also working with the city in applying for a 'Use Permit' to make our home a B&B."
Moran said if the Walkers comply with city ordinances, the violation could be dropped.
"If they really want to come clean and advertise appropriately," Moran said, "if they do that, we may drop the violation."
Scott Walker is a well-known local businessman who ran for Ocean Springs mayor. He served 16 months in prison for white-collar crimes and was released from federal custody March 21.