Fight over vacation rentals in Florida revs up again
A years-long effort to block local governments from regulating vacation rentals is on the move again, as House and Senate leaders revive a proposal to prevent cities and counties from inspecting and licensing properties offered on platforms such as Airbnb.
In a 10-7 vote on Wednesday, the House Regulatory Reform Subcommittee gave an initial nod to the latest version of the proposal (HB 219).
While the legislation has morphed over the past few years, the controversy over the issue has remained consistent.
“It’s always been a fun bill to present in committees,” Rep. Jason Fischer, a Jacksonville Republican who has shepherded the proposal in recent years, joked as he introduced the bill to the panel on Wednesday.
The measure would, for the first time, require online platforms such as Airbnb to collect and remit taxes on vacation rental properties, ensure that only properly licensed rentals are advertised and provide the state with specific information about the rentals.
In exchange, regulation would be “preempted” to the state, largely preventing local governments from regulating the rentals. Local governments could only regulate the rentals in the same way as other properties in neighborhoods, a restriction that cities and counties strenuously oppose.
Florida already bans local governments from passing ordinances to outlaw vacation rentals.
While acknowledging that his bill faces opposition, Fischer argued that the changes are necessary.
“The current way vacation rentals are handled isn’t working. Nobody’s, I think, really happy about the current state of things,” he said, adding that his proposal would “fix the dysfunction of the regulatory scheme across the state of Florida.”
Vacation-rental preemption has become a perennial fight for local officials and property owners in some high-end neighborhoods who complain about noise, parking and trash issues stemming from “party houses” owned by non-resident investors or unidentifiable businesses.
“It’s like déjà vu all over again. I’m sure you all are just as tired of us coming up here as we are,” Indian River County Commissioner Peter O’Bryan told the House panel.
The proposal would do away with ordinances regulating short-term rentals adopted after June 1, 2011, which opponents said would be problematic for areas that worked to develop local regulations since then.
“The problem with vacation rentals is, it’s not the activity. It’s the frequency and duration of it,” O’Bryan said. “If you preempt us back to 2011, you’re going to wipe out all of these communities where we have sat down with the industry, we have done the right thing, and we have an ordinance that’s working.”
Democratic lawmakers also said the proposal would worsen the state’s dearth of affordable housing.
But Fischer said “a fundamental principle in America is private-property rights” and that people who want to use properties as affordable housing can do so if they choose.
“They have by right the ability to go and purchase those properties and develop them in a way that they think will meet their policy objective,” he said.
Fischer’s bill was amended Wednesday to include a provision that would limit sex offenders from staying in vacation rentals for more than 24 hours. Florida law restricts sex offenders from staying at hotels for more than three days. The amended proposal also included a carve-out for the Florida Keys.