Orlando struggling with Airbnb and other rental networks

When Randall Boulanger started renting a pair of College Park cottages through Airbnb, he says he thought he did everything right. He had a state business license and city and county tax receipts.

But after a neighbor complained, Orlando code enforcement determined Baker was violating zoning rules. Although he enjoys a perfect five-star rating through the online rental center, he has since racked up more than $ 4,000 in fines, according to records.

“I’m not the guy who went underground and tried to do it without (approval),” said Baker, 49, who lives next to the rentals. “I’m the guy who did it right, and they laugh at me like that. It drives me crazy.

Orlando is one of many cities across the country struggling with the best way to regulate services like Airbnb, HomeAway, and FlipKey, which help homeowners rent their property on short notice to travelers looking for a hotel alternative. traditional.

While there are hundreds of local listings on these sites in the Orlando area, the City and County of Orange considers short-term rentals a violation of the code in the vast majority of residential areas.

The two governments currently only cite short-term tenants after receiving complaints. Developing a policy to more specifically govern these services is complicated by a 2011 state law that restricts cities’ abilities to regulate vacation rentals, officials said.

“The unintended consequence has been that this prevents cities from passing new short-term rental ordinances,” said the Orlando chief planner, Jason burton. “… We can’t even have this conversation because the state is ahead of us.”

In a statement, spokesperson Ben Breit said Airbnb had “a very positive and productive working relationship with policy makers” in Orlando and Orange County, citing the company’s recent pact with the county. to collect hotel tax from its users.

“Approximately 110,000 people have been able to visit Orlando through our home sharing platform over the past year, and we look forward to partnering with the community to continue to catalyze the local tourism economy,” said Breit .

Currently, the city code defines leases under 30 days as vacation rentals, a commercial use prohibited in almost all residential areas in Orlando, such as Lake Eola Heights, which allows them as bed and breakfasts, but only if the owner lives on the site.

Orange’s rules are similar; short-term rentals are permitted in about 4 percent of the county.

The city and county have received about 15 complaints each in the past six months. The complaints include cars parked along the roads, noise, or lost tenants arriving at the wrong door. Baker said a noisy food delivery boy prompted the complaint against him.

At a city council workshop on Nov. 14, Burton recommended to commissioners that the city maintain its current approach while seeking clarification from the legislature on whether and how it can regulate short-term tenancy.

After the presentation, the District 3 Commissioner Robert stuart said he was uncomfortable only punishing tenants who cannot fly under their neighbors’ radar.

“It just seems to me that it’s a little unfair that we put all of this burden on a complaints-driven system,” Stuart said.

Other cities across the state and nation have taken various approaches to regulating short-term rentals. Last month, New York State passed one of the toughest laws in the country, including fines of $ 7,500 for some users of rental services.

In Florida, Jacksonville bans short-term rentals in residential areas, while Key West limits it to certain neighborhoods, Miami Beach bans it for single-family homes, and St. Petersburg bans it altogether.

Meanwhile, Hollywood, Fort Lauderdale, Flagler County, and Panama City Beach recently passed ordinances setting standards for vacation rental services such as occupancy limits, parking standards, and inspection requirements. .

At a recent HomeAway conference in Orlando, the company’s director of government relations, Ashley hodgini, encouraged vacation rental owners to contact local authorities in their communities.

“They don’t always understand that you are good stewards of the home and the community,” she said.

Hodgini said his office was following regulations in about 60 cities five years ago. Now, she says, they’re tracking around 400 cities.

“The demand for this type of travel is so huge that you can’t stop it,” she said.

Celebration Real Estate Agent Victor nawrocki, which helps buyers purchase short-term rental properties, advises buyers to find a community popular with vacationers and to carefully read the owner’s association materials.

“People who fly under the radar are going to crash,” he said.

“People think they can get away with it, but people come to these places every weekend, and they’re usually not quiet about it… Of course the neighbors are going to complain. “?

Baker, a landscape architect who has appeared before city council to argue his case, says all he wants is to rent his property under fair and consistent rules. Rather than wait for complaints, the city should adopt uniform regulations, he said.

“Something has to be done, because bad players have to be regulated,” he said. “Everyone needs to be regulated, but bad players need to be treated and gone. “

Republished with permission from The Associated Press.

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