Local vacation rental regulations under fire again

Local vacation rental regulations under fire again
Anna Maria Mayor Dan Murphy is already tracking the progress of multiple vacation rentals bills filed by state legislators. - Joe Hendricks | Sun

ANNA MARIA – City officials in Anna Maria are already following proposed state legislation that pertains to vacation rentals.

Vacation rentals are among the many matters that will be debated by the Florida Legislature during the 2019 legislative session that convenes on Tuesday, March 5.

“The vacation rental snake is alive and well. There are three bills pending in the Senate at this point. Two of them are from Rep. David Simmons from the Orlando area,” Mayor Dan Murphy said during the Feb. 14 city commission meeting.

Simmons’ Senate Bill 815 proposes the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulations (DBPR) Division of Hotels and Restaurants impose a fee schedule on hosting platforms that advertise or list short-term vacation rentals.

Simmons’ Senate Bill 812 proposes persons engaged in certain public lodging-related transactions be required to display a valid certificate of registration number in their rental listings or advertisements. It also calls for DBPR’s vacation rental inspection responsibilities to be revised and the vacation rental classification to be revised.

Murphy said Simmons’ legislation seeks a compromise between local governments and vacation rental advertising platforms like Airbnb, VRBO and others.

Murphy said this legislation would prevent cities like Anna Maria from conducting annual vacation rental inspections as part of its local vacation rental registration process. Murphy said Simmons’ legislation calls for the state to do any needed inspections, with local municipalities relegated to tracking vacation rentals based on voluntary participation from rental owners and managers.

“I see very little value in this compromise. It’s so watered down it would be meaningless to our city to even participate,” Murphy said.

Commissioner Carol Carter said a state-based inspection program would result in little to no inspection of Anna Maria’s vacation rentals.

Commissioner Doug Copeland said the city needs to be cautious of the Simmons legislation.

“Counties like Manatee County who have failed to collect any tax from Airbnb will be supporting it because it’ll require them to register with the state. They’ve not taken the initiative like we have,” Copeland said. “They figure this is the way to at least get some of that money. They could be a thorn in the side, so beware.”

Murphy also referenced the private property rights bill, SB 824, filed by Sen. Manny Diaz Jr. (R-Miami-Dade). He likened it to previously unsuccessful legislation proposed by former Sen. Greg Steube (R-Sarasota), who is now a member of the United States House of Representatives.

Steube’s past legislative efforts attempted to usurp city and county governments’ home rule rights when it comes to regulating vacation rentals by preempting that authority to DBPR.

Diaz’ legislation also seeks to preempt the regulation of vacation rentals to the state, requiring each person applying for a vacation rental license to provide DBPR with specified information.

“It’s the same old song that Steube introduced. It puts us out of business vacation rental-wise,” Murphy said of the potential impacts.

Murphy said the Diaz bill was written by Airbnb lobbyists and did not yet have a companion bill in the Florida House of Representatives, which is required for any state legislation to be adopted.

Murphy said it’s possible that Rep. Mike La Rosa (R-St. Cloud) could file the companion bill, as he did last year for Steube’s failed legislation.

Sen. Bill Galvano (R-Bradenton) is now serving as the new Senate president, and Murphy hopes that local connection provides some opposition to these latest attacks on the city’s home rule rights.

“He has at least passively, if not somewhat overtly, said that he’s opposed to it,” Murphy said.

Murphy said Sen. Joe Gruters (R-Sarasota), who is also the new head of Florida’s Republican Party, might be a potential ally.

“He has told me that he felt our pain about the vacation rentals. Unfortunately, we did not get his vote last year,” Murphy said. “We’ll get our defenses up. I think it’ll be the same old game that we fought before.”

Lobbyist Chip Case is again assisting the city with these legislative matters. Last year, he and City Attorney Becky Vose helped derail Steube’s vacation rental legislation by getting a sexual predator amendment introduced and adopted.

“Chip was instrumental in killing it. He was the rainmaker last year. Hopefully, he can cut through and be the rainmaker again this year,” Murphy said.

Murphy said it’s also important for residents to become engaged and share their views with state legislators.

This can be accomplished with personal visits, phone calls, letters or email. A complete list of Florida Senators can be found online along with a complete list of Florida Representatives. All proposed legislation also can be tracked at these websites.