Gov. DeSantis blocks vacation rental services; hopes to discourage travel from COVID-19 hot spots

Blue Mountain Beach, in Florida's Panhandle. Credit: youtube.com

An executive order issued by Gov. Ron DeSantis requires owners of vacation properties offered through Airbnb and similar services to suspend operations, essentially declaring these properties COVID-19 vectors.

“Vacation rentals are prohibited from making new reservations or bookings and shall not accept new guests for check-in for the duration of this order,” the document says.

That’d be in 14 days counting from Friday, when the governor signed the order. Violations would bring criminal sanctions.

“The concern is, people in some of these hot spots wanting to … come here — now’s not really the time to do that,” DeSantis said during a news briefing.

Gov. Ron DeSantis issued two executive orders on March 27, 2010, further restricting travel to Florida and ordering vacation rentals to suspend most operations. Screenshot

“If you’re in one now, then finish and go home. But for any new rentals, there’s going to be a suspension on that,” he said. “We appreciate the assistance of people. Again, we’re just trying to keep people safe.”

Airbnb reportedly had offered to work with the governor toward making its listings available to first responders and medical workers, noting that some of their hosts were using their property as temporary shelters. The company hadn’t posted the information on its website but it’s available via this Twitter thread.

And the order does exempt rentals to “persons performing military, emergency, governmental, health, or infrastructure response, or travelers engaged in non-vacation commercial activities.”

DeSantis has been complaining about people fleeing coronavirus hot spots for Florida and possibly seeding infections in Florida. He first targeted the New York City region, adding people from Louisiana on Friday, this time citing a high rate of infections in New Orleans. Those orders requiring screening of newcomers and that they enter 14 days of self-quarantine.

All of these executive orders cite a sweeping emergency declaration the governor issued on March 9, as well as the Trump administration’s March 16 guidance that people should adopt social distancing for 15 days.

Whether these targeted travel bans are constitutional is unclear, but Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards declined to criticize DeSantis; he has issued a stay-home order in his own state (a step DeSantis hasn’t taken across the board in Florida).

The vacation rental order asserts that “Florida is experiencing an increase in individuals fleeing to Florida from out-of-state locations where ‘shelter-in-place’ orders are being implemented and/or community spread exists.”

It adds: “Many cases of COVID-19 in Florida have resulted from individuals coming into the state of Florida from international travel and other states, posing great risk to Florida residents.”

The order applies to rental of “any house, condominium, cooperative, or dwelling unit that is also a transient public lodging establishment” when rented for fewer than 30 days or one calendar month. It exempts “hotels, motels, inns, resorts, non-transient public lodging establishments, or time share projects.” Long-term rentals are not covered.

Michael Moline
Michael Moline has covered politics and the legal system for more than 30 years. He is a former managing editor of the San Francisco Daily Journal and former assistant managing editor of The National Law Journal. He began his career covering the Florida Capitol for United Press International. More recently, he wrote for Florida Politics.