Senator wants uniform standards for short-term vacation rentals, but it seems to be a tough sell – Florida Phoenix

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The latest attempt by the Florida Legislature to balance the regulation of vacation rental platforms like Airbnb and VRBO is moving forward, but there’s still questions and concerns that could ultimately derail the initiative.

For a decade, lawmakers have struggled to come up with a plan to have the state government take more control of short-term vacation rentals. But local officials have been fighting back.

State Sen. Nick DiCeglie of Pinellas County. Credit: Florida Senate.

“The goal here is very simply to create a uniform set of standards of regulations for vacation rentals in my opinion that is going to create predictability at the local level for local governments, for the residents who live in the community, for property owners who want to exercise their property rights for the platform,” said Republican Sen. Nick DiCeglie, of Pinellas County.

He introduced the measure (SB 280) on Thursday, before the Senate Fiscal Policy Committee. He also responded to specific criticisms in the bill about the amount of money that local governments could charge to register vacation rentals.

DiCeglie introduced an amendment saying a local government may require vacation rentals to be registered with “a reasonable fee” — the original bill said it could not exceed $150 per rental unit. The amended bill will also allow a local government to impose a fine on a vacation rental operator of up to $500 (from $300) for violations of local registration requirements.

The history

State lawmakers have been pushing for a decade to give Tallahassee more control over the regulation of short-term vacation rentals.

In 2011, the Legislature weighed in for the first time on the issue, voting to prohibit local governments from enacting any new law that restricted the use of vacation rentals, prohibited vacation rentals or regulated vacation rentals (They also “grandfathered” about 75 local ordinances already in place).

But after getting significant pushback from local governments, the Legislature reversed itself partly in 2014, allowing local governments to have the ability to handle issues such as noise, parking and trash, but still prevented them from regulating the duration or frequency of short-term vacation rentals.

DiCeglie resides in Indian Rocks Beach, a coastal community in Pinellas County that has been described as “Ground Zero” in the battle between property owners and local residents who claim such vacation rentals are wrecking their previously tranquil communities.

Last year the local government of Indian Rocks Beach passed an ordinance regarding vacation rentals that resulted immediately in at least one lawsuit. DiCeglie criticized that local ordinance on Thursday, telling lawmakers that he considered it a “very aggressive pushing of the envelope.”

“I said this multiple times last year when I ran this bill that I was extremely concerned that some of the local governments and their ordinances were specifically advanced and put on their books to prevent these properties from operating vacation rentals altogether,” he said. “There’s been somewhat of I would say a ‘weaponization of governments’ to prevent these properties from operating as vacation rentals. And I think that this bill is going to address those concerns.”

Opposition

But while representatives from local governments applauded some parts of DiCeglie’s amendment, they opposed other parts of the bill, such as that a local government registration program only requires that an owner or operator of a vacation rental needs to “submit identifying information.”

“This could be the ABC Delaware corporation that is owned by the XYZ Grand Cayman corporation,” said lobbyist Jack Cory, representing Jacksonville Beach. “The passage of this bill as amended would erode the prosperity of over five million Florida residents, who bought their homes to live in a residential neighborhood, with homesteaded exemptions. They did not want to live near a commercial zone, next to mini-hotels.”

Redington Beach Mayor David Will in the state Capitol on Jan. 19, 2024 (photo credit: Mitch Perry)

David Will, the mayor of Redington Beach in Pinellas County, has made frequent trips to Tallahassee since being elected three years ago to fight against the state taking more control of short-term vacation rentals. He said the latest legislative proposal will hurt his community.

“SB 280 will remove the ability for local communities to distinguish short-term rentals from residential homes,” he said. “If this bill were to pass, we could not distinguish noise parking and trash between short term rentals and regular homes.”

Meanwhile, officials with Florida TaxWatch are now getting involved in the debate.

The Tallahassee-based government watchdog and taxpayer research organization published a paper on Thursday bringing attention to the unlicensed vacation rentals on the market in Florida that avoid registration and license fees.  The group says that based on their analysis, the total loss registration fees from unlicensed vacation rentals ranges from $1.8 million to $6.9 million.

Samantha Padgett, the government VP and general counsel with the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, said that the bill needs more data transparency. She said the advertising platforms can remit taxes on thousands of vacation rental units using their single Florida tax registration number, making it impossible to accurately determine if taxes for each unit have been remitted.

Other problems

“We have no idea where all the vacation rentals are in this state, and we have no idea if they are all operating safely or paying taxes properly,” she said.

Tiffany Edwards, the executive director with the Florida Professional Vacation Rental Coalition, said her group had concerns about property owners getting code violations which could ultimately result in their being suspended. She said that could have ramifications for consumers of vacation rentals.

“If you were to place a reservation, that unit then goes into suspension, you show up, you may not receive your money back or have a guaranteed lodging establishment.”

The Senate committee approved the bill, 12-5, and it now goes to the House, where it has been assigned to three committees.

Indian River County Republican Debbie Mayfield, who sponsored the 2014 bill in the House that returned some controls of vacation rentals back to local government, said she supported the measure, but added that it remained to be seen whether the Legislature could finally come together this year with a measure that is equally fair to all sides.

“You have to remember, we have a partner on the other side that we’re having to negotiate with,” she said, referring to the House. “But at the end of the day, if we can’t, we can’t. We’re not going to put a bad product out there just to say that we got a product done.”

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