Vacation Rentals Pit State against Local



How island governments should regulate short-term home rentals has grown with such services as AirBNB, but now state lawmakers, including Sarasota’s state senator, want to set uniform rules across the state of Florida that stop municipalities from putting in place burdensome rules.

State Sen. Greg Steube says the rules restricting rentals in various communities throughout the state violate individual property rights and mask an intent to shut rentals down completely. “I absolutely think that’s their intent,” he says. “Over these last couple years I have heard a lot of complaints from property owners.” Steube has sponsored legislation that would put regulation of rentals under the auspices of the state Division of Hotels and Restaurants and preempt any regulation by smaller jurisdictions.

But officials in jurisdictions like Longboat Key call the legislation an assault on their home rule. “It’s totally in the face of Longboat Key and our rules,” says Longboat Key Town Commissioner Jim Brown. “We have had our rules that basically say one rental per month, and those have been in place for over 30 years.” Brown says Longboat Key has successfully fought state infringement on the town’s ordinances before, and the municipality would have to go to court again if Steube’s bill passes.

Brown feels Steube and other lawmakers have pursued this legislation at the behest of powerful Realtor lobbyists in Tallahassee, who have seen tremendous opportunity for profit with the arrival of services like HomeAway. The property rights argument holds little weight in Brown’s eyes. “If somebody built an auto repair shop next to him (Steube), would he say the same thing?,” Brown asks. “It’s a property rights thing until it’s in my neighborhood.”

But Steube says over-regulating rentals stands in the way of tourism growth as well. At a press conference last week, he quoted statistics from the Florida Vacation Rental Management Association (the AirBNB host community) showing that, in 2013, more than $31.1 billion was infused into the Florida economy by some 17 million vacation rental visitors that year. The study also showed vacation rentals supporting over 320,000 jobs annually either directly or indirectly each year, generating more than $12 billion in labor income.

Brown says though that local governments have regulated rentals for decades, and that jurisdictions need to have a say on the commerce within their community. “[Steube] wants this, but he also wants people to be able to cut down all the trees and carry guns in college,” Brown says. “I'm not sure where he comes up with these ideas.”

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