Hillsborough County issues fines for overnight Airbnb rentals

As Hillsborough County commissioners try to decide how to enforce a little-known law governing short-term rental properties, a farm owner in Thonotosassa is facing thousands of dollars in fines for his own.

Commissioners are considering a proposal by Commissioner Sandy Murman to create a registry for owners of short-term rentals. Murman thinks it would help code enforcers enforce a law that requires a seven-night minimum stay at all homes in the county that also operate as rental properties through sites like Airbnb.

“I’m bringing this here because I have significant issues with this at Apollo Beach,” Murman said during the commission’s Dec. 5 meeting. “They just don’t follow any rules. [or] no respect for the neighborhood. It’s becoming a big problem.”

Meanwhile, Rob Canton, owner of Grady Goat Yoga in Thonotosassa, has been fined $1,000 a day because, according to investigators, his property is listed on Airbnb and can be rented for less than seven days.

“Very, very shocked,” Canton said. “In all the research we’ve done, we haven’t seen anything that would suggest there are any issues with operating an Airbnb.”

The county learned of Canton’s Airbnb listing during a brief investigation in September.

Canton Farm was used to set a goat yoga world record and over 500 people participated. A neighbor complained about the parking situation. After a code enforcement investigator visited the property, they found that Canton had broken no laws during the record-breaking event. The investigator found the Airbnb listing, however, and began issuing daily fines to Canton.

“I’m definitely not the only one. If the county decides to actively start doing this, it will have a real impact,” Canton said. “Essentially it puts every Airbnb out of business that doesn’t just book longer-term rentals, which is pretty much every Airbnb I know of.”

What Canton learned was that the county was using its definition of a dwelling or residential property to issue fines. The county defines a dwelling as a property occupied for more than seven days at a time. If a property is available to rent for less than seven days, under county law it will need to be zoned as a dwelling. A violation of these zoning laws can result in the fines that Canton currently faces.

Canton wonders how many of the dozens or hundreds of landlords listing their properties for rent on websites like Airbnb are currently in violation.

“There are a lot of people who depend on Airbnb for a living,” he said. “It just doesn’t make sense to me. Just a year before the Super Bowl returns and a few weeks before the Outback Bowl and all the other events, national championships and everything we do, the county should be celebrating Airbnb like a viable option.”

For now, Canton is fighting the fines. He believes he is in compliance with the law, even if the county disagrees.

Florida lawmakers, meanwhile, passed a law earlier this year that prevents local communities from enacting short-term rental restrictions. Cities and counties that already had regulations in place, like Hillsborough, were allowed to keep their laws on the books.

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