Published February 9, 2021 in The Daytona Beach News-Journal. Read the full article here. Bills moving through the Florida House and Senate could do away with local vacation rental regulations across the state. That includes Destin, where the City Council implemented an ordinance in January 2019. FILE PHOTO/DAILY NEWS
Opinion: Florida lawmakers shouldn’t undermine local control on vacation rentals
It’s back. Again. Of course. Legislation to prohibit counties and cities from monitoring and controlling the impact of short-term rentals in their communities has been a high priority for huge corporations such as AirBnB and VRBO for more than a decade, and they’ve made it clear they will keep pushing until they have scored a win. It’s a high-stakes game in Florida, where the vacation-rental industry is surging. And it’s a call to arms for local officials in Volusia, Flagler and St. Johns counties, who are already gearing up to defend their ability to defend their communities.
So far, they’ve prevailed. Residents still have the ability to work with their local elected officials to define the character of their communities – as they did last year in St. Augustine, revising rules on occupancy, safety and parking. Lawmakers should stand with their residents and fellow elected officials, not bow to wealthy out-of-town interests looking to maximize profits.
It’s not hard to see why these representatives of the so-called peer-to-peer rental industry want uniform statewide regulations – which would almost certainly be looser than fine-tuned local control. While their key function is to serve as an intermediary, matching willing property owners (“hosts”) with potential renters or guests, they are also forced into the role of lead customer-service agent. They don’t make the rules or write the listings, but they do have to field the angry phone calls.
They are also focused on the argument that it’s not fair to have one set of rules that governs short-term rental properties, and another for owner-occupied dwellings – though that stance is much less defensible. Short-term rental properties are different, thrusting commercial interests into areas designated as residential. In effect, short-term rental owners are enacting zoning changes, property by property. And zoning in Florida has always been allocated to local governments.
That undermines the arguments of people like Polk County Commissioner Neil Combee, who told the Lakeland Ledger that he sees some local boards over-regulating while others have no regulation at all. City and county officials make that kind of decision all the time as they manage growth in their communities.
City and county officials know their communities. They know where the quiet neighborhoods are, and which areas have been, for better or worse, consumed by tourism. They know where traffic will pile up on a busy holiday weekend, and which condos stand mostly vacant and dark except on special-events weekends. They know which parts of their community are dominated by out-of-town landlords who don’t care about their tenants’ impact on surrounding property owners, and they know the areas where residents are working together to drag their neighborhoods back from the edges of blight.
Nobody needs to tell these elected officials what’s going on in their city or county. They confront these realities on a daily basis. They see the pleading or angry faces of people lined to speak at public meetings, and it doesn’t stop there: They are waylaid at the grocery store, in the gym, at church.
They hear from people whose streets have been blocked by haphazardly parked cars with out-of-state license plates. From the people who can’t hear their own television sets over the din of the party next door. From people who have found their own property invaded, and pools and parking spaces colonized, by people whose vacation mindset includes an outsized notion of entitlement.
They also hear from residents who rely on the income from leveraging their biggest asset, or who enjoy swapping houses for vacations around the world. They hear from people who have invested big money into renovating their properties to be “guest friendly,” and take great delight in making their short-term tenants feel at home. The big peer-to-peer sites are full of praise for hosts who go above and beyond, acting as highly effective ambassadors for their communities.
Here’s the thing: Local officials care about those folks as well. They can craft rules that balance the interests of the good property owners, the guests and their residents, while protecting the characters of their county or city. Most have no interest in blanket over-regulation.
Lawmakers, let local officials do their jobs. The people they are defending are your constituents, too.