Rooms Rentals & Shares

Florida Communities Fight With State Legislature to Regulate Vacation Rentals

Apr 12, 2014 5:00 am

Skift Take

While the existing law makes some things much easier, local communities are usually in the best position to decide how their town manages housing and development.

— Jason Clampet

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Mecki Mac  / Flickr

A pool at a vacation rental in Florida. Mecki Mac / Flickr


Florida municipalities may have to settle for less than they hoped from the Legislature when it comes to local control over short-term rental homes.

At the beginning of the session, Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, introduced Senate Bill 356, and Rep. Travis Hutson, R-Elkton, introduced House Bill 307, which would have overturned a law passed in 2011 that banned local governments from “regulating, restricting or prohibiting” short-term vacation rental properties in their jurisdictions.

That ban was implemented at the urging of the vacation rental home lobby and tourism officials, who objected to local ordinances that, in some cases, banned short-term rental of properties, such as in areas zoned for single-family homes.

But, when local governments could no longer control how those rental properties were used, some investors began to purchase houses in residential areas and essentially turned them into mini-hotels. Nearby residents complained about the transient nature of those properties and the potential reduction in their own property values.

Local governments also complained about the intrusion of the mini-hotels and the loss of “home rule,” or local control over land use. The effort to return home rule led to SB 356 and HB 307, but both bills have been amended in committees and no longer simply repeal the ban on local control over short-term rentals.

The Senate bill would allow local governments to regulate the rentals, but could not limit the number of stays or require any rental property to be used for more than seven days.

The House bill generally would allow local governments only to issue restrictions related to health and safety.

State Rep. Debbie Mayfield, R-Vero Beach, a co-sponsor of the House bill for which she voted in an early committee, said she was disappointed with the later amendment that stripped the bill of much of its original intent.

“Something like this should be at the local level,” she said. “We shouldn’t be tying the hands of the cities and counties.”

But, she said, “That’s where the balancing act comes into play. It was difficult to move (the original House bill) through the process. … There was a lot of lobbying going on with the vacation rental industry.”

Mayfield said she has been working closely with the Florida League of Cities, which had strongly supported both original bills, but now supports the Senate version, which would provide a greater degree of oversight for local governments.

Neither the local governments nor the vacation rental lobby will be getting all they want, Mayfield said, but if a consensus is reached and a bill gets out of the Legislature, it “should be something we can all live with.”

“It’s demoralizing,” said Tim McGarry, planning and development director for the city of Vero Beach, which had hoped for a stronger stance from the Legislature. “It gets back to the state pre-empting local home rule. We have due process. Why does the state have to step in?”

Indeed. The bad 2011 legislation should have been repealed and zoning regulations and oversight returned to local governments instead of lawmakers giving in to special interests.

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