Short-term vacation rentals are all about property rights. But whose?

Sign displayed at press conference in Capitol by citizens opposed to vacation rental bill on April 10

Jennifer Riley has lived for the past four years in a residential area a few blocks away from the water in Indian Rocks Beach in Pinellas County.

For the first two years she loved living in the community – but no more.

She’s been dealing with short-term renters in the neighborhood who play loud music, party deep into the wee hours of the morning, and even threaten her.

“I had one guy. It was after 10 p.m. and we called the police and so he came over, and he looked at my boyfriend and he said, ‘You know what the bad thing is? I know where you live. You don’t know where I live,’” Riley recalls.

The owner of the rental in question is an absentee landlord living mostly in Pennsylvania. He told her he intended to use the house as his own vacation home and visit whenever he could.

“A total lie,” Riley says.

Over the past couple weeks, Florida lawmakers have heard similar horror stories from homeowners living in coastal communities, all over short-term vacations rentals and how they should be regulated.

The homeowners with horror stories oppose a proposal sponsored by state Rep. Jamie Grant, a Republican from the Tampa Bay area.

Grant wants to preempt local ordinances dealing with short-term vacation rentals and move that control to the state.

But the homeowners with horror stories don’t want the state to be involved – they think their local government, and not Tallahassee, would respond better to their concerns.

On the other hand, supporters of Grant’s legislation prefer state involvement because they think it will create less regulation for short-term rentals.

Supporters want the free-market to rein and be able to supplement their income by renting out their homes. They say reports of “bad actor” landlords are overstated.

The vacation-rental market has become a booming business in Florida in recent years, with the popularity of short-term rental platforms such as Airbnb, Expedia, Booking, HomeAway and VRBO. Individuals who used Airbnb to rent out their homes in 2018 earned a combined $810 million in supplemental income in hosting approximately 4.5 million guests.

For close to a decade, legislators have been trying to find the sweet spot in coming up with a solution that satisfies all sides of the vacation-rental regulation issue.

They’re still looking.

In 2011, the state took over regulation of vacation-rentals, except for about 75 local ordinances previously on the books that were “grandfathered.”

After pushback from cities, the Legislature reversed itself in 2014, allowing local governments to handle issues like noise, parking and trash, but still preventing them from prohibiting or regulating the duration or frequency of vacation rentals.

Grant’s bill in the House would go back to the 2011 legislation, removing all “grandfathered” local government ordinances on short-term rentals.

But the odds of getting legislation to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ desk are low, after Grant’s bill barely passed in a House committee on Wednesday with a split vote, and lawmakers muddled over numerous last-hour amendments. And a Senate version has been pulled from consideration in a committee.

Still, the big business of vacation rentals will not be going away soon.

Grant’s bill would require each person applying for a vacation rental license to provide information to the hotel and restaurant division of the Department of Business & Professional Regulation (DBPR).

The information would be the name, address, telephone number and email address of the person the division may contact when a complaint related to a vacation rental is reported. The state would make that information available to the public online.

Of concern is that an Inspector General’s report published a year ago said the DBPR’s hotel and restaurant division has “struggled” to meet approved standards.

Also, statewide inspections of short-term rental vacations aren’t mandatory, but are done on “as needed” basis. Local governments generally do inspections after short-term renters register with them.

(In New York City, where there is a ban on allowing renting an apartment or home to a visitor for less than 30 days, a proposal requiring Airbnb to turn over hosts’ information was overturned by a Manhattan judge in February, according to news accounts).

The industry supports the proposal to allow Tallahassee – and not the local governments – to regulate short-term rentals.

“A diverse mix of travel accommodations – including short-term vacation rentals – is vital to Florida’s tourism industry,” says Philip Minardi, a spokesman with Expedia.

“As a globe leading travel platform that helps families coming to the state with all their travel needs, Expedia group has a unique perspective on policies that can drive Florida’s tourism economy forward,” Minardi says in a statement.

One policy would be requiring the display of license numbers, Minardi says.

In 2010, the city of Miami Beach banned property owners from renting a short-term rental (defined as less than six months and a day) unless it was in a legally permissible zone, such as in South Beach.

Violators are subjected to a $20,000 fine, with the fine going up in $20,000 increments for every subsequent time they are caught.

That rankles Natalie Nichols, who is legally challenging the city’s laws on rentals and has placed a petition on change.org calling for support to reinstate the right to rent short-term property in Miami Beach.

“They don’t want second-home owners and investors in a town that is 80 percent second-home owners and investors,” she says. “I just don’t get it.”

Mayors from coastal communities are the number one foes of the legislation in Tallahassee.

“We are a neighborhood-based community, and to have that sort of short-term rental activity with the congestion of people, the noise, the partying, the parking. It’s going to wreck our neighborhoods, and we want to have a say on this,” says Ellen Glasser, the mayor of Atlantic Beach, part of the Jacksonville Beaches communities.

Her city currently does have an ordinance on the books prohibiting short-term rentals which could be removed if the pending legislation is enacted.

Indian Rocks Beach Mayor Joanne “Cookie” Kennedy says there’s currently one street in her beach-side community which has five homes up for sale because the homeowners are weary of dealing with short-term renters.

Her biggest criticism with current Florida law is that it has removed local governments from regulating occupancy requirements.

“When you have a two-to-three-bedroom home, and 16 to 25 people are in that home, how can you consider that a residential use?” she asks.

At the heart of the argument is: What is the true definition of property rights?

House bill sponsor Grant calls those rights “sacrosanct,” and Naples- based realtor Laura Puckett agrees that the vacation rental issue is a property rights issue.

Puckett says she has been bombarded from “little old ladies” who fear that they’ll lose their only source of income if a proposed crackdown on short-term rentals in Collier County were to come to fruition.

“We all want property rights,” responds Mayor Kennedy, who says she was besieged by upset constituents when recently talking about the vacation rental issue. “That’s what I hear: ‘Cookie, what about my property rights?’”

So, what’s next?

If this session’s measures fail, it seems inevitable that lawmakers will be grappling again with how, and who, should regulate short-term vacation rentals.

5 COMMENTS

  1. Look at that neighborhood! Who will support the schools? Who will volunteer? Who will attend the churches/temples/mosques and assist with all the good they do? Who will support the businesses such as car dealerships, hair salons, dentists and doctors, and small eateries/ businesses that rely on the steady, year-round patronage of the residents? Remember, residents have lots of friends and family visiting – they bring in “tourists,” too – but with an owner present in a home, it’s an entirely different story. Community is destroyed.

    In Florida, there can be one person for 150 square feet living in a house. Do you want 20 people/week staying in a 3,000 foot square house next to you every week? You do not.

    Representative Grant talks about getting rid of the “bad actors,” and he says that there are already laws to deal with that. Guess what? There can be bad actors EVERY WEEK. It’s not a one-and-done. It can be 50 times a year.

    Rep. Grant also spoke on behalf of the Vacation Rental Management Association last year in Orlando, and has received contributions from the law firm that hires their lobbyist – is this doing the will of his constituents? Not a chance.

    We had one investor in our community – had 16 lots/houses…and he lived in St. Louis. In fact, he was so uninvolved, one of his houses was built on the wrong lot!

    And, don’t forget sex offenders just showing up without registering…the other day, we had the police looking for a felon in our community – a short-term renter.

    This is why there needs to be local control, and control over investor-owned properties.

    Very few, if any are opposed to the “little old ladies” – very condescending comment, by the way – who rents out a room on occasion while she is present for a little extra money.

    But, as the Chicago Times has reported, more than 80% of Airbnb’s profit comes from investor-owned properties – not “little old ladies.”

  2. For some reason reporters never mention the fact that when I bought property in in Miami Beach in 2004 and 2006, it was legal to do short term rentals in single family homes and that most people on my street were doing short term rentals. Less than 20% of the people were homesteaded, and most people spent part of the year somewhere else. People complained about people who left homes empty. I bought the home I live in and the home next door to rent out, along with a 4 plex down the street where I paid resort tax since 2006. None of the people on my street of vacation homes were grandfathered in when Miami Beach passed the law in 2010. The new ordinance took a street that has a 50% reduction in value and made is a 75% reduction in value and not renting directly caused foreclosures, short sales, and bankruptcies. The 2016 fine hike to $20,000 caused a 25% loss of value to single family homes in Miami Beach while Miami and Miami Dade County gained 25% value. Retirees and people who have lived there 45 years -some owning 5 homes on a peninsula of 90 homes – are suffering.

  3. Single family homes in Miami Beach have dropped 25% in value while the rest of Miami Dade single family homes have increased 25% in value. My street of 90 people has 15 people trying to sell homes and 10 trying to find long term renters. People are losing their homes as a result. People who bought their primary home here and a few more to operate as a business before 2008, when it was legal and encouraged. Those people were not grandfathered in. The city needs to be forced to grandfather people who owned their homes before to be grandfathered in and allowed to short term rent with occupancy restrictions.

  4. Wish the author did a little more research. In Indian Rocks Beach I interviewed our three police officers at the last council meeting. They reported there has been one repeated complaintant who repeatedly calls with what turns out to be unsubstantiated complaints. The police told me there are very few vacation rental complaints and in comparison to the volume of rentals, it less than one tenth of one percent. We have lived here for fifteen years and we had a vacation rental open up next door. We had one problem at first and then no further problems in the past three years. When the laws changed we too invested in a rental here in IRB, after 50 rentals we have had no complaints. We would never rent to a group too large for our property because the damage to the house would be more than the value of the rental, so the crowded occupancy argument doesn’t hold up. It is true that our mayor went to Tallahassee after I asked her not to pick a side because she should represent all of her constituents, but she chose to do so anyway. There is growing if silent disapproval of her action as there are hundreds of rental owners here in IRB. If the police don’t recognize a problem and it is a case of a small number of overly vocal complaintants, that is what state constitutions are there to protect against. Protect property rights at the state level!

  5. My mother passed away in 2018. Our family home is located in St. Pete Beach. Given the costs associated for insurances, taxes, and other related costs, the only way my sister and I can afford to hold on to this home is to do short term rentals. The ordinance for no less than 30 days went unenforced for years. Neighbors next door rented their place for over 7 years and we had no problems or complaints with the renters at all. Our home only allows for no more than 5 people and doesn’t allow for parties…….
    We will be forced to sell our mothers home soon because most people aren’t looking for a 30 day rental……
    We don’t want to sell it………..

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