Vacation rental bill advances in Florida House, set for first Senate hearing

The Center Square
By John Haughey
February 16, 2021

(The Center Square) — The Florida Legislature’s Republican leadership has unsuccessfully targeted local regulation of short-term vacation rentals offered on digital websites such as Airbnb, VRBO and HomeToGo with preemption bills since 2014.

At stake is control of a $30 billion industry with 6.6 million visitors in 2019 staying in a private Florida home rented via a digital platform rather than staying in a hotel, generating about $1.2 billion in state, county and local fees and tax revenues.

House Bill 219, sponsored by Rep. Jason Fischer, R-Jacksonville, advanced through the House Regulatory Reform Subcommittee Wednesday in a 10-7 vote.

The bill faces hearings before the House Commerce and Ways & Means committees to reach the chamber floor when the 60-day legislative session begins March 2.

Senate Bill 522, HB 219’s Senate companion filed by Sen. Manny Diaz, Jr., R-Hialeah Gardens, makes its debut Tuesday before the Senate Regulated Industries Committee. Hearings before the Senate Commerce & Tourism and Rules committees will follow.

The bill is similar to Diaz’s 2020 proposal, which languished in Senate committees while its House companion, also sponsored by Fischer, died on the House floor after Gov. Ron DeSantis said vacation rental regulations “should be determined locally.”

A 2019 House measure also passed three committee hearings before dying on the floor while two related Senate bills, including one sponsored by Diaz, were never heard in committee.

Therefore, when SB 522 goes before the Senate Regulated Industries Committee, it will mark a significant advance for the preemption push in the senior chamber.

As with previous proposals, HB 219/SB 522 would require vacation rental homes be licensed by the state Department of Business & Professional Regulation (DBPR) and be regulated and taxed as such.

HB 219/SB 522 also include a provision that waylaid previous proposals — nullification of vacation home regulations adopted by cities and counties since 2014.

During Wednesday’s hearing, Rep. Dan Daley, D-Coral Springs, asked Fischer, “Why are you proposing to eliminate locally vetted solutions that are working? We like to say that government closest to the people is sometimes the best government.”

“I’ve also heard people say that socialism is starting to invade America through local government,” Fischer replied.

Proponents say local ordinances restrict homeowners’ ability to generate income by renting homes is “taking” under the 5th Amendment and that regulation by 488 municipalities have weaved a confusing checkerboard.

The changes are necessary, Fischer said.

“Nobody’s really happy about the current state of things,” he said, adding HB 219/SB 522 will “fix the dysfunction.”

Unlike previous measures, HB 219/SB 522 has some support from hoteliers.

The Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association (FRLA) supports the proposal, as do 19 hotel operators represented by HDG Hotel’s Chief People & Culture Officer Lisa Lombardi, who said HB 219/SB 522 “has a lot of potential to make sure we can all recognize who is in our state providing lodging of any form.”

Lombardi said “there’s room for improvement” and suggested the bill include fines for non-compliance and auditing requirements.

Democrats raised concerns about “commercial operations” in residential neighborhoods with no local oversight and said it would cost taxpayers $1.4 million annually if the DBPR assumes exclusive regulatory control of short-term rentals.

Former state Rep. Jason Steele, a past Brevard County Republican Party chair, warned those who support “this terrible bill” will face repercussions from angry voters, noting Democrats opposing the proposal are the real conservatives in this discussion.

“It’s political suicide for you,” Steele said. “I’m telling you right now, you’re jeopardizing your political career.”

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