Florida considers bills to regulate short-term vacation rentals


By Marianela Toledo | Florida Watchdog

MIAMI — The idea of renting vacation homes for a week or two is a popular and cheap option, the cool thing to do.

Homes are listed on websites such as Airbnb and can beat hotel rates by 20 percent to 50 percent.

Unlike hotels, which are zoned as commercial properties, vacation rentals aren’t subject to bed taxes, but, depending on location, licensing and some taxes may apply.

But that could change.

RE-REGULATE: Short term vacation rental offered in websites and listed by owners can be 20 to 50% cheaper than hotels. Those kind of rentals are in vogue and the trend is growing. But so are the numbers of cities who are trying to curb it.

Two measures in the Legislature basically eliminate a provision in a 2011 law prohibiting local governments from imposing rules and regulations that restrict short-term vacation rentals.

HB 307 is sponsored by state Rep. Travis Hutson, R-Elkton, and Rep. Daphne Campbell, D-Miami. Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, sponsors SB 356.

The bills are targeted at properties categorized as “licensed short-term vacation rentals through the Division of Hotels and Restaurants,” said Matthew Kauffmann, an assistant to Hutson.

The bill won’t regulate properties that escape the licenses requirements.

In some areas, iron-clad restrictions already are in place. In Miami Beach, short-term rentals are prohibited in all single -family homes within certain zones. In Orlando, only certain areas allow short-term rentals.

Tim Doyle is spokesman for the Short-term Rental Advocacy Center, which works with stakeholders and policymakers to create fair and reasonable short-term rental regulations.

The regulations, he said, aren’t good for the economy.

Doyle said he wants “fair and reasonable, simple registration systems.” He said that if the legislation is approved, local municipalities will impose onerous rules and exorbitant fees, and that’s “not necessarily good for Florida.”

Short-term rentals, by driving down the cost of visiting a destination and increasing the supply of accommodations, can boost tourism and contribute millions to the local economy. In Orange County, room-tax collections soared to $15.2 million in July. Okaloosa County got a similar boost and used the windfall to fund tourism and restore its beaches, Doyle said.

Doyle’s company represents websites such as Airbnb.com, which has more than 500,000 listings in 33,000 cities and 192 countries.

But, Doyle said, such websites don’t keep up with existing laws, and it’s government’s job to enforce them.

Florida Watchdog.org contacted the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, which performs random audits but doesn’t monitor listings on rental websites.

The Florida League of Cities supports the bill, and has said, ”Cities mentioned that too little oversight could expose guests to dangerous situations, create unfair competition in the tourism industry, and rob the state and local governments of tax dollars.”

Contact Marianela Toledo at Marianela.Toledo@FloridaWatchdog.org or on Twitter @mtoledoreporter

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