Florida fights for control of short-term rentals

LAKELAND – If a senator from Florida gets his way, local governments could soon lose control of an ever-expanding industry: short-term rental.

Florida Senate Bill 522 was introduced by Senator Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah Gardens, in January and has been referred to the Regulated Industries, Commerce and Tourism and Rules Committees.

The bill essentially hands the regulation, licensing and inspection of the short-term rental industry to the state, removing the levels of control that currently exist at the city and county level.

An identical bill was introduced in the House in January. The ordinary session begins on March 2.

Diaz did not return multiple requests for comment.

“Vacation Rentals Act … prohibiting a local law, ordinance or regulation from allowing or requiring inspections or licensing of public accommodation establishments, including vacation rentals or establishments catering audiences ” the bill reads.

The bill routes all licenses for short-term rentals to the Hotels and Restaurants Division, overseen by the Department of Business and Professional Regulation.

Supporters of the bill, such as the Florida Vacation Rental Management Association, argue that it will normalize the short-term rental industry while leaving space for local governments to continue to regulate as they see fit, as long as they include all residential properties in their ordinances. and regulations.

“Basically for us it’s really about professionalizing the whole industry and right now it’s fragmented. Because we have regulations with the city, regulations with the county, regulations with the State, “said Denis Hanks, executive director of the association. “You just can’t tell vacation rentals like the evil stepson.”

But those who oppose the bill argue it assumes the state knows communities better than their own local representatives, forcing cities and counties to work with molds that don’t fit them.

“The state’s approach is unique. And the glory of Florida and what makes it so great is that it is unique everywhere,” said Cragin Mosteller, director of external affairs for the Florida Association of Counties. “It is not a one-size-fits-all state.”

This is not the first time that this legislation has been presented at the state level before. And while supporters argue it’s the best next step for the industry, opponents fear the continued encroachment on autonomy.

Growing Vacation Rental Industry

Hanks said the Florida vacation rental industry is worth $ 30 billion a year. The Florida Vacation Rental Management Association represents approximately 100,000 vacation home operators. He added that there are probably around 250,000 vacation homes across the state.

Locally, short-term rentals are a “big market,” Polk County Tax Collector Joe Tedder said.

“Polk County has always been, compared to Miami, Orlando or Fort Lauderdale, Polk County has always been [had] a much stronger focus on short-term rental housing, ”Tedder said.

Much of the industry exists in the northeastern part of the county near tourist destinations like Disney World and Universal Studios. Tedder said Europeans tended to buy homes in the area and rent them for weeks to other foreigners visiting Orlando or the beaches.

Tedder said vacation rentals make up about 45% of the tourism development taxes he collects. And he estimates that there are about 4,000 to 4,500 vacation rental homes in Polk County.

And then there is the phenomenon dominated by the popular Airbnb reservation site: renting out your own accommodation or parts of your accommodation to passing visitors for just a few days. Tedder said part of the industry is “exploding”.

Hanks said the industry has been doing particularly well since the onset of COVID-19 because people feel more secure in a house that they can rent entirely for themselves rather than staying in hotels and motels.

“Our numbers are through the roof,” he said.

State control ensures standardization

Hanks said the main argument for approving the bill is simple: standardization.

He said all licensing and regulations would be done at the state level so that owners looking to rent do not have to go through multiple levels of licensing and inspection to enter the market. He said the bill would create a “simplified set of rules”.

Additionally, he said if cities or counties had behavioral issues during some short-term rentals, that was not a problem. But they must put in place rules that control all residential properties, such as noise ordinances or parking restrictions.

Hanks said cities and counties could generate more revenue as well, as around 400 platforms like Airbnb will need to ensure owners have a license and a tax ID before approving their real estate listings. on their sites.

“Just by not passing this bill for several years, I think it’s costing local governments a lot of money,” Hanks said. “There’s just layer after layer of these things that shouldn’t be like this when a system can handle everything like that.”

Tedder has had to get creative with collecting taxes on short-term rentals until now. After Airbnb and its competitor HomeAway refused to give him the accounts they had on their site for tax collection purposes, he made a deal: these sites would collect the taxes on his behalf and then hand over the money. . Tedder said giving in was worth it because some places still don’t see that tax revenue.

“Am I going to keep hammering sand or am I going to go ahead and get a deal and start collecting this money?” Tedder said.

The bill even has a supporter at the local level: Commissioner Neil Combee on the Polk County Board of Commissioners, who previously served in the Florida House of Representatives.

As a representative, Combee supported similar limits on local control over short-term rentals. And he hasn’t changed his mind.

“Some jurisdictions have, you know, tried to make it impossible for anyone to rent their property. And others maybe haven’t done anything and haven’t resolved anything at all,” Combee said. “The legislature said we need to take this once and for all, regulate it and allow it at the state level.”

Combee agreed that if a neighborhood has a problem with unwanted behavior caused by short-term rentals, it should control that behavior at all levels rather than selecting short-term rentals.

And he added that if he could see why some would have a problem with state intervention, he doesn’t really see any other solution.

“If the goal is to have uniform enforcement throughout the state of Florida and to ensure that they are treated the same whether you are 100 feet within Manatee County with your property or 100 feet off the line in Sarasota County, “Combee said,” I don’t know if there’s another way, and that’s where we are now. ”

“Lakeland is not Miami”; Local control brings balance

Mosteller, along with the Florida Association of Counties, said removing the power of local governments to regulate short-term rentals is wrenching their ability to organize the communities their residents want to live in.

“I think it’s really important for the state of Florida to welcome tourists that our local communities have the ability to maintain, create and regulate the quality of life and personality of their community,” Mosteller said.

When bills like this have arrived in the past, residents and landlords have complained about the neighbors revolving door created by short-term rentals. Mosteller said everyone should be a “neighborhood” when it comes to issues like parking or garbage.

“By having local control, we can make sure that we can have a good balance,” Mosteller said. “I think our counties are much better at finding that balance than a distant capital.”

Mosteller said the association opposes the legislation and hopes to find a solution that protects and benefits local communities.

Lakeland commissioner Phillip Walker, who is the Florida League of Cities senior vice president, agreed.

“We know it’s best to go with our own communities, like everything else,” Walker said. [We’re] asking our state legislature to take into account that we are asking them to protect, once again, the local authorities, the authorities that the locals have chosen. ”

And Walker added that while it agrees that owners have rights, so do those affected by the existence of short-term rentals and the problems that the nomadic nature of stays can sometimes create.

And it is not just officials who are against the bill. MeLynda Rinker, who rents a property through Airbnb with her husband, Bob Rinker, doesn’t think it’s a good idea either.

“Lakeland is not Miami and we’ll have very different results if they demand the same things,” Rinker said. “How can you take two areas that are so different and have the same rules apply to both?” “

The Rinkers rent the Daugherty house on South Lake Avenue. The house can accommodate up to 10 people for a stay.

Rinker said local authorities should have more say in regulation because there is a lot that Airbnb and other short-term rental operators may not know they are doing wrong. She added that while she believes licensing should go through the state, other rules and regulations should remain local.

Airbnb as an organization supports the bill.

“We look forward to working with the Florida legislature to create a more consistent and functional regulatory framework across the state, so that owners who choose to lease their properties are treated the same as all owners,” said said a spokesperson in an email.

But for the opposition, it is the very essence of certain communities in Florida that is at stake.

“The state cannot ensure that the personality of these neighborhoods can be preserved in a friendly and friendly manner,” Mosteller said. “And that’s what the counties want to do.”

Maya Lora is best reached with advice or questions to [email protected] or 863-802-7558. Follow @mayaklora on Twitter.

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