Miami Beach could criminalize Airbnb rentals

Update: Gelber’s office has now revised its proposal and has slightly rolled back its intention to criminalize Airbnb hosts. The mayor is now proposing to impose fines of $ 1,000 and $ 3,000 before laying criminal charges as a third strike. But the charges could still add up quickly, as the city reportedly considers each day of unlicensed operation a separate “new” offense.

There are perfectly legitimate concerns that Airbnb gentrifies neighborhoods and makes cities even less affordable than they already are. But so far, cities have struggled to figure out exactly how to handle the service, which allows owners to rent out their properties for days at a time. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio is engaged in an uphill battle with the company over his city’s plan to crack down on Airbnb.

For better or worse, Miami Beach has been launching its own attack on Airbnb rentals for years. Tomorrow, the city will consider a dramatic new proposal from Mayor Dan Gelber: potentially criminalizing certain illegal rentals.

As it stands, it is illegal to rent residential zoned properties in most of Miami Beach for less than six months and a day. To legally rent such properties, owners must obtain a business tax license from the city and pay an annual fee.

Gelber will present two new proposals to the committee tomorrow which appear designed to crack down on rental service: A proposal would force companies like Airbnb to remind users that they need these business tax licenses to operate legally, and require landowners using these sites to include their license numbers in all online ads. The order would also make it illegal for platforms like Airbnb and HomeAway to work with rentals that don’t have the licenses.

But Gelber second proposition is more draconian. This would increase the penalties for anyone caught operating an unlicensed business. Currently, the first penalty for operating businesses without a tax permit is a civil fine of $ 1,000. Gelber wants to increase that sentence for the first time in a misdemeanor, which could cost the offender a fine of $ 500 or up to 60 days in jail.

Gelber’s proposal notes that tougher penalties are needed because residents “continue to carry on business or conduct business without a commercial tax receipt as required by the city despite existing civil penalties.”

While Airbnb hosts appear to be the obvious targets of the plan, it would also criminalize anyone operating any type of business without a tax license. This could include everything from residents selling food outside of their homes to people having their hair cut in their living room.

Florida Airbnb spokesperson Ben Breit declined to comment on the proposal. Gelber spokeswoman Veronica Passye did not immediately respond to a message from New times.

But other news outlets have warned that a crackdown is imminent. In May, CNBC published an important article on Miami Beach’s attempt to end illegal rentals through civil fines. The following month, CNBC reported that Gelber was discuss a set of new Airbnb regulations.

“Airbnb’s business model is incompatible with the kind of recognition that short-term rentals are not in the overall public interest in cities,” Gelber told CNBC earlier this year. “So either they’re going to fight or they’re going to change.”

Civic activists and politicians continue to passionately debate whether services like Airbnb are damaging urban areas. In May, McGill University town planning professor David Wachsmuth published a study suggesting that Airbnb had a “dramatic” and negative impact on the New York City housing market. Wachsmuth discovered that after the flood of short-term rental listings in New York City, the local supply of affordable housing abandoned and gentrified neighborhoods. Wachsmuth also found that 12% of rentals in the New York City area were owned by “commercial operators” with multiple rental units rather than families or landlords renting spare rooms or apartments.

Given that Miami Beach is already suffering from its own affordable housing crisis, the Wachsmith study is sounding the alarm bells about the effects of services.

Other cities have developed their own proposals to crack down on services. De Blasio proposed to require platforms, including Airbnb, that they hand over data on every host in town, including names and addresses of hosts. About half of the 50,000 rentals in New York City are illegal, according to the Wachsmith study.

At the same time, however, Airbnb has long maintained that authorities in the Miami area are simply aiming to protect the region’s powerful hotel industry at the expense of residents who wish to earn extra income. There is evidence to support this claim: in 2017, New times got emails showing then Miami mayor Tomás Regalado was coordinating with hotel lobbyists to propose a ban on short-term rentals that ended up not going through. In this case, a hotel industry lobbyist handed Regalado a copy of Fort Lauderdale’s ban on short-term rentals, which Regalado’s office then sloppily edited before submitting the order to Miami. . (De Blasio was also accused of helping the hotel industry rather than residents.)

But even with major civil penalties in place, Miami Beach has struggled to curb unauthorized Airbnb rentals. The city passed a first fine of $ 20,000 – then the country’s most expensive sentence – for illegal tenants in 2016. The city has since imposed millions of dollars in fines, but has struggled to recover the money. owners’ money.

In June, Miami Beach resident Natalie Nichols sued the city for the high cost of the fines. In a court application in August, the city argued that the fines were “necessary to deter residents from violating” the ban on short-term rentals. In the meantime, the Miami area remains one of Airbnb’s most lucrative markets.

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