Should local or state government oversee short-term rentals?

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – April 2, 2019 – State leaders again are looking to take away the authority of cities and counties to regulate vacation rentals, a preemption push that is strongly opposed by many local officials.

Single-family homes that are rented out for a few days – or a week or two – have been a hot-button issue for years in many Florida beach communities, including those in Sarasota and Manatee counties. Neighbors often complain about noise, trash and other problems from the rental homes, and many local governments have enacted ordinances aimed at reining in short-term vacation rentals.

All of these local ordinances have been grandfathered in under previous attempts by the Legislature to seize control over vacation rentals, but those grandfathered rules would be repealed under the legislation (HB 987) that advanced through the House Government Operations and Technology Appropriations Committee Monday.

The issue has been especially prominent on Anna Maria Island in recent years, where the cities of Holmes Beach, Bradenton Beach and Anna Maria have all taken steps to put tighter restrictions on rentals – controversial measures that have prompted lawsuits from property owners.

State Rep. Jamie Grant, R-Tampa, said property owners who want to rent out their homes have been unfairly treated.

“We should be screaming to stand up for something as a basic and fundamental as private property rights,” said Grant, who is sponsoring the new vacation rental preemption bill.

Regulating vacation rentals has a long history in the Legislature.

In 2011 lawmakers took away the ability of municipalities to regulate short term rentals.

An outcry from local governments led to a partial rollback of the law in 2014. Cities and counties were allowed to enact new regulations targeted specifically at rentals, so long as they didn’t impose minimum stay requirements, such as banning nightly or weekly rentals, which cause the most controversy.

Cities such as Holmes Beach and Anna Maria subsequently adopted ordinances that institute rental inspection programs and maximum occupancy levels. That wouldn’t be allowed under Grant’s bill, which instead seeks to bump up state supervision of rentals.

The legislation would modify the state licensing requirement for vacation rentals to require that an applicant provide “the name, mailing address, telephone number, and email address of a person who can be contacted” to the state Division of Hotels and Restaurants within the Department of Business and Professional Regulation.

That information would be posted on DBPR’s website to make it easier for people to contact rental owners with complaints.

Grant said he is not a big fan of new regulations but agrees there are vacation rental “horror stories that I think are legitimate” and said more should be done at the state level to identify and target “bad actors” while protecting the property rights of “good actors.”

But city and county officials – and their lobbyists – said that DBPR does not have the resources to effectively police vacation rentals.

Mark Ryan, the city manager for Indian Harbour Beach, a small beachside town in Brevard County south of Cocoa Beach, told the committee that he is concerned about “the constitutional protected rights of the folks that now have to live with a mini hotel.”

Ryan said his city had an incident with a pornographic film company renting a house. He said the actors went to the wrong home and were doing cocaine on the back porch. Another speaker mentioned underage drinking during a large party at rental house.

“We are OK with vacation rentals,” Ryan said. “We want the ability to register and to regulate.”

Representatives for the Florida League of Cities and the Florida Association of Counties also spoke against the bill.

Florida Association of Counties Executive Director Eric Poole said the vacation rental industry got a “big win” with the 2011 preemption law, and cities and counties are just trying to preserve the ability to “have regulations that temper some of the nuisances” that rentals create.

The bill cleared the committee with bipartisan support, but a pair of GOP lawmakers who have served in local government said Monday they are concerned about the legislation. Rep. Chip LaMarca, R-Lighthouse Point, voted against the bill while Rep. Melony Bell, R-Fort Meade, said she would oppose the bill in the future if changes are not made.

“I am a proponent of property rights 100 percent … until it starts affecting your neighbors,” Bell said, adding later that “I just feel like it’s a home rule issue.”

Grant said local authorities already have the ability to go after illegal activity at rental properties.

“We heard about cocaine, we heard about underage drinking … they’re all already illegal,” he said.

Local governments have not been able to solve the problems with vacation rentals Grant said, noting that “horror stories” keep coming up year after year. The state might have more success, he said. Fundamentally, though, Grant believes that property owners who seek to rent out their homes should face limited restrictions.

“The private property rights of our Floridians are sacrosanct,” he said.

Grant’s bill has cleared two committees in the House and has one more to go before reaching the full chamber. Similar bills have yet to get a hearing in the Senate.

Copyright © 2019 Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Fla., Zac Anderson. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.