Governor suspends vacation rentals

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ANNA MARIA ISLAND – Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has suspended vacation rentals for two weeks.

“We’re going to suspend for two weeks any new vacation rentals in the State of Florida. The concern is people in some of these hot spots wanting to come here. Now’s not really the time to do that, so the vacation rentals will be suspended for two weeks. If you’re in one now, then finish and go home – but for any new rentals there’s going to be a suspension on that,” DeSantis said during Friday’s press conference.

These actions are set forth in Executive Order 20-87.

Governor suspends vacation rentals, mayor suspends rental reservations
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis issued a two-week suspension on new vacation rental stays. – www.flgov.com

“I hereby order all parties engaged in rental of vacation rental properties, as defined in Florida Statutes, to suspend vacation rental operations. Vacation rentals are prohibited from making new reservations or bookings and shall not accept new guests for check-in for the duration of this order,” according to the executive order.

The directive includes any house, condominium or dwelling unit that is also a transient public lodging establishment as defined under Florida Statutes.

The governor’s directive does not include hotels, motels, inns, resorts, non-transient public lodging establishments, time share projects or long-term rentals. The order does not include rental stays at which the guests are already occupying the rental unit or have previously booked a stay and are scheduled to check in no later than March 28.

The order does not apply to those performing military, emergency, governmental, health or infrastructure response, or travelers engaged in non-vacation commercial activities.

“DBPR shall revoke the vacation rental license of any party that violates this order or otherwise advertises vacation rental opportunities during the duration of this order; and DBPR shall alert the state authorities to evidence of violations or attempts to violate this order,” the executive order says.

“This executive order shall expire in 14 days unless extended by subsequent order,” the order concludes.

Restrictions in Anna Maria

On Tuesday, March 24, Anna Maria Dan Murphy issued an emergency order that temporarily prohibits new reservations for vacation rental stays of less than 30 days in Anna Maria. The order took effect at 4 p.m. on Wednesday, March 25.

Governor suspends vacation rentals, mayor suspends rental reservations
On Tuesday, Anna Maria Mayor Dan Murphy issued an emergency order suspending new vacation rental reservations. – File Photo | Joe Hendricks | Sun

“There shall be no new reservations for an arrival date of March 26 through June 30 of less than 30 days. Reservations with an arrival date on or subsequent to July 1 are excluded from this order,” Murphy’s order says.

“If a rental of 30 days or more during the period between March 25 and June 30 is cancelled before the end of the 30-day period, that vacation rental shall not be permitted to be made available for rental, or be rented, for the balance of that 30-day period,” the order says.

According to the order, it is now considered fraudulent and unlawful to advertise a short-term vacation rental unit in Anna Maria that does not state all restaurants on Anna Maria Island are limited to takeout service only and all bars are closed.

It is also considered fraudulent and unlawful to not include mention of the governor’s 14-day mandatory self-quarantine requirements that apply to visitors from specific states and cities.

“This order is deemed necessary to protect the health, safety and welfare of the citizens of the city of Anna Maria,” the order says.

The order notes violations shall incur punishments that include but are not limited to the suspension or revocation of the vacation rental unit’s annual registration; removal of tenants; criminal penalties levied against the vacation rental owners and the rental management companies and personnel that represent them.

“Every day of non-compliance will be punished by separate fines levied against both the vacation rental owner and the vacation rental management company in the amount of $500 per day of non-compliance,” the order says.

Murphy is required to review his emergency order at least once every seven days to determine whether it needs to remain in place or be lifted.

On Wednesday, Murphy sent city commissioners an email update on the decision he made.

“Our city is the only one in the county with this type of order. I was on a conference call this afternoon with all cities and county officials in Manatee County. I was asked to explain our rationale/position for this order. I explained that part of our rationale was based upon reducing the churn of people coming into and out of Anna Maria weekly,” Murphy’s email said.

The mayor’s email expressed concerns about visitors being at a higher risk of infection while traveling; about potentially infected visitors using public facilities and visiting city beaches; and about potentially infected visitors being in close proximity to Anna Maria residents, many of whom are senior citizens.

“I acknowledge that there is pressure and displeasure with this order from some quarters. But I still feel this is in the very best interest of our community,” Murphy said in his email.

On Thursday, Murphy and the city commission held their first virtual commission meeting.

Joining the virtual meeting by telephone, several out of state residents expressed concerns about the emergency order impacting their existing reservations.

Pennsylvania resident Rose Jordan said she and several other family members have reservations on Anna Maria Island scheduled to begin on April 18. Jordan said she was not sure which of the three Island cities everyone in her party was scheduled to stay in.

“The order doesn’t apply to existing reservations. You have a legal right to come to the Island and stay,” Murphy said in response – not knowing what Gov. DeSantis would do the following day.

Murphy also cautioned that now is not a good time to travel and he noted the closures and restrictions placed on the Island’s bars and restaurants.

Jordan and others also expressed concerns about some vacation rental companies on the Island not providing refunds to those who wish to cancel their reservations due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Jordan said she was offered a credit that must be used during the 2020 calendar year. Jordan said due to their occupations she and several others in her party must bid out their vacation time well in advance and cannot make it to the Island at any other time in 2020.

New York resident Marco Dipasquale expressed similar concerns. He said he is an Airbnb host and that Airbnb and VRBO hosts, for the most part, are giving refunds for cancellations.

“This is not sitting well with us,” Dipasquale said, noting this might be the “last straw” for him when it comes to dealing with some of the Island’s vacation rental companies.