Fla. House Moves Forward on Vacation Rental Bill

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vacatrentaThe effort to bring short-term rentals under state control could help ensure that advertised rentals on sites like Airbnb are licensed and collect and remit taxes.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – For the first time, online platforms such as Airbnb would have 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, under a proposal headed to the House floor.

In exchange, short-term rental regulation would be “pre-empted” to the state, largely preventing local governments from regulating vacation rentals. Local governments could only regulate the rentals in the same way as other properties in neighborhoods, a restriction that cities and counties oppose.

The House Commerce Committee on Thursday approved the proposal (HB 1011), with Democrats objecting that decisions about vacation rentals – which have sparked backlash from some homeowners who complain about raucous parties, parking issues and a steady stream of strangers in neighborhoods – are best left up to local officials.

Despite the objections of local government officials, House and Senate leaders brought together a host of affected parties, including Realtors®, hotel operators and advertising platforms, to strike a deal that has eluded the Legislature for years.

“This feels like groundhog day,” Florida Association of Counties legislative director Eric Poole told the committee before Thursday’s vote. Florida already has “a very broad and very deep pre-emption on vacation rentals,” he said.

Poole cited one report that found the vacation-rental industry generated $1.2 billion in revenue through rentals to 6.6 million guests in Florida last year. The numbers demonstrate that “the local and state regulatory environment remains friendly to short-term rentals” and that local regulations have “helped the industry flourish,” he added. “We are not stifling commerce. We are pro-vacation rentals. We just would like to have a little bit of home rule authority to address some of the local needs,” Poole said.

Under current law, cities and counties cannot prohibit vacation rentals, or regulate the duration or frequency of the rentals. But local governments are allowed to license and inspect properties.

While the proposed changes would ban ordinances that specifically target vacation rentals, cities and counties would still be allowed to pass ordinances dealing with noise, parking and trash, so long as they apply to all residential properties, the bill’s supporters stressed Thursday.

Much of the debate on the proposal focused on the property rights of people and businesses that own the vacation rentals and the property rights of neighboring homeowners.

“Everybody who owns their property has rights to the property that they purchased,” Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Naples, said. “This debate comes not from the use of property but the nuisance that results from the use of the property.”

Donalds said there aren’t enough hotel beds to accommodate all of the visitors to Naples. The vacation-rental industry “has been a boon to Southwest Florida,” he said.

But Rep. Javier Fernández, D-South Miami, said that, while he was “heartened” by some of the provisions in the measure, he still had concerns. For example, the proposal would carve out condominium and homeowner associations, but not “single-family neighborhoods.”

“Those owners have property-rights expectations related to their quiet enjoyment of their own property,” Fernández said.

But bill sponsor Jason Fischer, R-Jacksonville, said the bill “doesn’t prevent local governments from dealing with issues,” such as “the party house” and noise issues.

“Nothing in this bill encourages the situation of a party house. Nothing in here would stop local governments from passing, I don’t know, noise ordinances and enforcing those noise ordinances,” Fischer said. “Make no mistake, this bill doesn’t do anything to change the power of local governments when it comes to dealing with good-neighbor policies that affect the neighborhood.

Fischer said the measure was based on “common-sense” feedback from numerous “stakeholders.”

The House plan is now headed to the floor for a vote. A Senate version (SB 1128), sponsored by Sen. Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah, needs to clear one more committee before a full vote in the Senate.

The Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association has opposed vacation-rental legislation in the past, but Carol Dover, the group’s president and chief executive officer, told The News Service of Florida on Thursday that she’s backing the proposals.

Dover praised House and Senate leaders for their work on the effort this year. While the measure does not address all of the association’s concerns about vacation rentals, she said she supports “the middle ground that’s been struck” with the proposal.

“It’s not perfect, but it’s a huge leap in the right direction,” Dover said.

Source: News Service of Florida, Dara Kam

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