Vacation rental bills progressing

    TALLAHASSEE – Two bills filed by Florida legislators during the 2020 legislative session seek to strip local governments of their ability to regulate vacation rentals.

    As was the case in recent years, with no success, the matching House and Senate bills again seek to give the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) the sole authority to regulate short-term vacation rentals.

    This year’s efforts also include a new twist – providing the state and DBPR the sole authority to regulate vacation rental advertising, with a focus on online rental platforms such as Airbnb and VRBO.

    To become state law, matching bills must be adopted by the House and Senate during the 60-day legislative session scheduled to end on March 13.

    Bills’ progress

    Filed by Sen. Manny Diaz Jr., R-Miami/Dade, Senate Bill 1128 was ruled favorable by the Florida Senate’s Committee on Innovation, Industry and Technology by an 8-2 vote on Jan. 13. It was then referred to the Senate’s Commerce and Tourism Committee chaired by Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota.

    Diaz

    As of Monday, Feb. 3, the Commerce and Tourism Committee had not yet discussed SB 1128, nor was it on the agenda for the committee’s Tuesday, Feb. 4 meeting.

    LaRosa

    Co-sponsored by State Rep. Jason Fischer, R- Jacksonville, and State Rep. Mike LaRosa, R-St. Cloud, HB 1011 is the House companion to the SB 1128. HB 1011 was ruled favorable by the House’s Workforce Development and Tourism Subcommittee on Jan. 21 by a 10-5 vote margin. It was then referred to the Government Operations and Technology Appropriations Subcommittee and included on the agenda for that committee’s Tuesday, Feb. 4 meeting.

    Fischer

    Senate bill discussed

    When introducing his bill on Jan. 13, Diaz said, “Unlike years past, the goal of this vacation rental bill is to bring accountability over the Florida vacation rental industry by ensuring for the first time that only properly registered and licensed vacation rentals are listed on advertising platforms and that the state and local governments have the information they need to ensure taxes are remitted.”

    Diaz said this would be achieved by defining what an advertising platform is and placing those advertising platforms under DBPR regulation. Diaz said his bill would require vacation rental advertising platforms to provide local tax collectors the information they need to ensure that all rental-related taxes are paid.

    Diaz said this would be achieved by requiring sales tax registration and tourist development tax numbers to be included in any public advertising of a vacation rental. Quarterly reports submitted to DBPR would also be required.

    Diaz claimed his legislation would not diminish the power of local governments to address vacation rental issues because it would preserve grandfathered vacation rental prohibitions or restrictions enacted before June 2011.

    However, Diaz made no mention of preserving cities’ home rule rights by preserving the 2014 state legislation that returned to local governments the ability to enact local vacation rental regulations and registration programs, while maintaining the 2011 provisions that prevent local governments from prohibiting vacation rentals or regulating the frequency or length of those rentals.

    “Local governments can continue to pass good neighbor policies within sections of their municipalities to deal with all properties, as long as all properties in those areas are treated the same,” Diaz said.

    State law currently allows local governments to adopt local laws and regulations that pertain specifically to short-term vacation rentals.

    Diaz said his legislation would also preserve homeowner associations’ and condominium associations’ ability to regulate and/or prohibit short-term rentals.

    FLC opposition

    Florida League of Cities’ Legal Advocate Casey Cook is among those who opposed the proposed legislation as introduced. Cook offered the Senate committee suggestions on how SB 1128 could be improved.

    Cook stressed the need to distinguish between traditional home-sharing properties and investor-owned rental properties. He said the senior citizen or single parent who rents out a spare bedroom to supplement their limited income should be exempt from local rental regulations, as should other homesteaded properties.

    Contrary to Diaz’s legislation, Cook suggested DBPR be authorized to subcontract local governments to enforce state-imposed rental regulations.

    “There have been a number of articles showing that DBPR is overworked, understaffed, they can’t meet their performance benchmarks currently on the books and they need help. We think locals are positioned to help them on the enforcement side, on the inspection side and going after unlicensed activity,” Cook said.

    “I think that you should clarify that noise and trash ordinances should be applied across all residential properties. That makes sense. I don’t know that it works for parking,” he added.

    Cook suggested vacation rental-related fines be standardized statewide and be based on a percentage of the nightly rent.

    “The $40 bedroom in Wauchula would pay a lower fine than the $10,000-a-night mansion in Miami Beach,” Cook said.

    He also said fines and penalties should escalate for repeat violators, to the point where the ability to use the property as a short-term rental could eventually be lost.