April 5, 2019 12:00 a.m.
It is again time for the annual trek and tangle in Tallahassee. Each year, legislators gather to plan and execute their attack on local governments throughout the State. With government experience in three states, I can say that the persistence and depth of the attacks is unparalleled here in Florida.
What I find most remarkable about these attacks is that they are most often conducted by officials who previously “cut their teeth” at the local level, victims of earlier state-level assaults. They were City Commissioners, County Commissioners, School Board members, etc. The first-hand experience of the value of home rule, governing at the local level, is lost or discarded on the way to the capital. As I shared earlier this week, I believe that the most significant threats to our quality of life in Fernandina Beach emanate from Tallahassee, not Washington, D.C. (but the really shiny object is in D.C. right now).
Renewed following its defeat last year are wide-ranging provisions for short-term rental properties. “Short-term rentals” refers to the use of residential properties as vacation housing- part of what is commonly referred to as the “shared economy.” Communities across the state (a state in which an overwhelming portion of the economy is related to vacations and tourism) have implemented a variety of regulations for short-term rentals, most of which are likely based upon local factors.
The growing problem is that this once “mom-and-pop” industry is now a behemoth. Residential properties, like yours and your neighbors’, are being purchased by corporate entities to serve as a lodging facility, not as the originally purposed (and expected) use as a residence. I expect that many residential property owners purchase a house in which to live with commonly held expectations of their new neighborhood.
The purchase of these houses by corporate agencies and the subsequent use as short-term rentals, upsets the neighborhood expectations. Imagine the house next-door to you functioning year-round as a lodging facility: people constantly coming and going, with no restrictions on the number of occupants, the number of vehicles, immune to inspections and other regulations, and ignorant of neighborhood expectations. Those of you in gated or homeowner associated restricted neighbors, pay VERY close attention because the proposed legislation supersedes any community bylaws, including your community’s! Welcome to the neighborhood.
Upon closer examination, the proposed “wide-ranging provisions” are wide-ranging at all, but simple and straightforward: “Except as provided in this paragraph, the regulation of vacation rentals, including, but not limited to, inspection, licensing, and occupancy limits is preempted to the state.” The only subsequent exception in “this paragraph” is related to advertising (specifically in regard to companies on the Scrutinized Companies that Boycott Israel List). All local short-term rental regulations throughout the state will be invalidated.
The position of local government officials is that short-term rentals should be regulated locally. If tourist-based communities want to open the floodgates for unrestricted short-term rentals, let them; if other communities want to regulate or restrict such usage of residential property, that should be a locally based decision. Prospective property owners can make an informed decision as to whether to buy in a regulated or non-regulated community; existing property owners can be assured that their neighborhood would remain neighborly (except for the guy down the street that mows his lawn too early on Sunday mornings).
I don’t believe that many would have significant objections to a private residence being utilized as a short-term rental on an occasional basis, especially if those properties were regulated to some degree: why not allow people to earn a few extra dollars if their home is available? The key point, though, is that it is someone’s home, not a lodging facility.
The attacks on home rule will continue. It may be short-term rentals today, it will be tree ordinances tomorrow (well, that is actually today, too), telecommunications and local rights-of-way (umm, that’s today, too), Community Redevelopment Agencies (today), and more.
Pay attention to Tallahassee. Contact Senator Aaron Bean and Representative Cord Byrd to share your comments.