Short term rental property owners in Fernandina Beach: take heart!

Submitted by Suanne Z. Thamm
Reporter – News Analyst
February 19, 2020

City Attorney Tammi Bach

Although the Florida Legislature appears poised to seize municipalities’ rights to regulate short term rentals, the change will have only limited applicability to Fernandina Beach.  Why?  Because the City of Fernandina Beach has laws on the books dating to 2000 and 2006 that allow it to enjoy grandfathered status.

During the February 18, 2020 Regular Meeting of the Fernandina Beach City Commission (FBCC), City Attorney Tammi Bach explained.

According to Bach, the legislation pending before the Legislature would prohibit municipalities from restricting short term rentals in any area of the city.  But, as in many other things, Fernandina Beach appears to be almost unique.

“It is not going to affect in Fernandina Beach where you can have resort rentals,” Bach said.  “We are good.  There are other coastal [Florida] towns that are very jealous, because they had not begun the process of regulating resort rentals years ago.  The cutoff date for allowing grandfathered municipal regulations to remain in force is June 1, 2011.”

Bach added that amendments that the City made in November 2011 will probably be nullified by the new state law.  Those amendments dealt with fines, posting permits and other items that can be handled separately.  “In my estimation, there will not be many changes noticeable to the public,” she said.

City Manager Dale Martin asked Bach to clarify where short term rentals would be permitted, and she did.  “The only place in the city where short term rentals [less than 30 days] is permitted is in areas zoned R-3, for multiple family residential, along the beach.  And that does not change.  What might change is how we permit it and things like that.  But it will not affect other neighborhoods of the city.  Deed restrictions, e.g. homeowners associations, condos, will also be honored.”

Martin stressed, “Downtown areas are NOT included.”  Bach agreed.

Short term rental property owners will still need permits and will be required to pay bed taxes.

Bach reminded listeners, “If a short term rental period expires for a period of 180 days or more, and the property is not in the R-3 zoning area, you are no longer protected by grandfathering and you lose your permit.  You need to keep up with your permit if you want to continue renting.”

Martin also cautioned that homeowners are not allowed to use their property for AirBNB rentals unless they are in R-3 zoning and have a short term rental permit.  “Short term rental is legal speak for AirBNB,” he said.

Homeowners in any zoning district need to be mindful that renting homesteaded property can result in loss of homestead exemption.