By John Haughey
April 14, 2019
Proposals to pre-empt local regulations with state oversight of Florida’s $31 billion short-term vacation rental industry are unlikely to advance this session with measures in both chambers facing challenges.
House Bill 987, assembled by the House Business & Professions Subcommittee and shepherded by Rep. James Grant, R-Tampa, awaits introduction onto the House floor.
However, while HB 987 breezed through its first two committee approvals, it ran into blistering resistance before the House Commerce Committee, which advanced the measure in a contested 13-11 vote last week that belies confidence it will pass muster in a chamber vote.
Nevertheless, if HB 987 is endorsed by the Republican-controlled House, it would mark the third straight year the lower chamber has sent an approved vacation rental reform bill to the Senate.
The House version of 2018 Vacation Rental Act, HB 773, was approved by the House last year but benched by Senate committees. Similar 2017 bills shared the same fates.
With Wednesday’s postponement of SB 824’s initial hearing before the Senate Industry, Innovation & Technology Committee, it appears vacation rental reform is being relegated to the same track to Senate oblivion this year.
The postponement essentially means it likely won’t be heard this session because the panel is not scheduled to meet again before committees adjourn on April 23.
Committee Chairman Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Spring Hill, did not offer an explanation on why the hearing on SB 824 was being postponed.
SB 824, sponsored by Sen. Manny Diaz, R-Hialeah, must also be approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee to advance to the Senate floor – a tall task even without requiring it get done within a compressed 10-day timeline.
SB 824 and HB 987 would pre-empt local regulations and require vacation rental homeowners, often marketed through Airbnb, HomeAway and other internet-based listing sites, to register with the Florida Department of Business & Professional Regulation [DBPR], which would exclusively regulate their uses.
Proponents have framed the bills as a property rights issue, arguing that property owners should have the right to rent property for a few days at a time.
Opponents, which include local governments and residential groups, maintain that short-term rentals can become a nuisance in residential neighborhoods and that local governments know their communities and constituents better than the state in determining what is appropriate.
Our Neighborhoods, a coalition of community leaders, child safety advocates, homeowners, parents and homeowner association presidents, staged a rally before and after HB 987’s Wednesday hearing in the House Commerce Committee.
“What about our rights as real homeowners and neighbors?” Bonnie Sullivan, of Indian Rocks Beach, asked reporters during the rally.
Critics also say the bill unfairly benefits internet-based marketers such as Airbnb and HomeAway at the expense of the Florida’s traditional hotel industry.
The most prolific digital platform offering Florida vacation rentals is Airbnb, which lists more than 45,000 Sunshine State properties on its website.
In February, Airbnb reported short-term rentals offered through its digital platform drew 4.5 million guests to Florida and generated more than $810 million in rental income for hosts in 2018.
In 2017, it remitted $33 million to the state and $12.7 million to counties it has tax collection contracts with, including $3.3 million to Miami-Dade, $1.9 million to Broward, $1.9 million to Pinellas and $1.8 million to Orange counties.
Florida Vacation Rental Management Association [FLVRMA] Executive Director Dennis Hanks told the panel that SB 824 does the right thing by standardizing regulations statewide and reducing obstacles for constituents to profit from their property.
Since the Legislature allowed local governments to impose their own short-term rental regulations in 2014, some cities and counties have adopted ordinances “that almost prohibit vacation rentals,” he said.
A 2018 FLVRMA survey of 625 registered voters, conducted by Mason-Dixon Polling, found 76 percent of Floridians support the ability to rent out their primary home, while 88 percent said the same for secondary properties.
Although the poll did not specifically ask how those surveyed feel about a state agency, instead of a local city council or county commission, being responsible for regulating short-term rentals, it states that 74 percent of respondents said regulations “should be consistent throughout the state.”
The “patchwork of local rules can go block-by-block,” Hanks said, creating “crazy inequality, all across the state.”
Without some form of vacation rental reform, expect a deluge in litigation as property owners challenge inequality in individual cases, Hanks predicted.
Watchdog.org is a project of the Franklin Center for Government & Public Integrity, a non-profit organization dedicated to the principles of transparency, accountability, and fiscal responsibility. The Franklin Center shines the bright light of transparency into government’s darkest corners, and exposes the facts about government mismanagement and overreach.