Fireside chats: Vacation rentals

Fireside Chats

Our community is changing. That’s a given, but communities are always changing, and change isn’t necessarily a bad thing. When it comes to changing communities, the fire district’s goal is to adapt to the change and continue providing the needed services. We are not politicians, but public servants and among the most valuable service we provide is safety. Walk into any supermarket, doctor’s office, library, etc., and you will find occupancy-specific passive and active fire and life safety features designed to protect life and limit the damage caused by fire; fire barriers, fire alarms systems and sprinklers systems to name a few. Local fire districts have done a commendable job of keeping up with the change in these areas. However, there is one area where change has outpaced our ability to keep up… vacation rentals.

Let me be clear, West Manatee Fire Rescue District is not proposing the enactment of any new legislation or ordinance aimed at restricting or prohibiting residential occupancies from renting as transient public lodging establishments; that is not our goal, nor is it our role. As a fire district, we recognize the value both small and large business provides to a healthy, vibrant community. Our objective is life safety!

Safety in vacation rentals

It is estimated that someone is injured in a vacation rental every 44 seconds, according to the National Fire Protection Association. Estimations aside, during the last three years on Anna Maria Island there were 11 structure fires at single-family residential occupancies. Of those 11, eight, or 73%, occurred at licensed transient public lodging establishments (TPLE).

Furthermore, on Anna Maria Island in 2022, not counting on our beaches or in swimming pools located at multi-family occupancies, there were three pediatric drownings or near drownings; of those three, 100% occurred at TPLEs.

The drowning crisis last year provoked a WMFR Water Safety Campaign that was kicked off by a press conference in Holmes Beach where, among other experts, Manatee County Commissioner Kevin Van Ostenbridge and Holmes Beach Mayor Judy Titsworth gave impassioned pleas imploring the public to commit to overseeing young people while in and around our waters. Since then, WMFR has continued its efforts to provide water safety materials to local vacation rental companies. Along the way, questions have been asked as to the extent of oversight the local Authority Having Jurisdiction (AHJ) has over vacation rentals. This article wishes to address that question.

What is a vacation rental?

Florida Statute 509.242(1) states, “A public lodging establishment shall be classified as a hotel, motel, non-transient apartment, bed and breakfast inn, or vacation rental if the establishment satisfies the following criteria…” Florida Statute 509.242(1)(c) goes on to define a vacation rental as, “Any unit or group of units in a condominium or cooperative or any individually or collectively owned single-family, two-family, three-family, or four-family house or dwelling unit that is also a transient public lodging establishment…” And finally, Florida Statute 509.013(4)(a)(1) defines Transient Public Lodging Establishments as “any unit, group of units, dwelling, building, or group of buildings within a single complex of buildings which is rented to guests more than three times in a calendar year for periods of less than 30 days or 1 calendar month, whichever is less, or which is advertised or held out to the public as a place regularly rented to guests.” Transient public lodging establishments are licensed by the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulations (DBPR).

There are some exclusions, however. For example, if one had a single-family home and wished to convert it into an assisted living facility, a license from the Agency for Healthcare Administration (ACHA) would be required. Similarly, requirements for daycare centers and nursing home licensure would be required. The aforementioned are occupancies that WMFR has been inspecting annually for years without hesitation or question. WMFR inspects these occupancies utilizing the appropriate prescriptive chapters of the current edition of the Florida Fire Prevention Code.

Fire code and vacation rentals

Florida Statute 633.206(1)(b) Uniform Fire Safety Standards states: “State Legislature mandates local fire jurisdictions protect the health, safety, and welfare of “all-new, existing, and proposed… nursing homes, assisted living facilities, adult family-care homes…  transient public lodging establishments…” Additionally, it goes on to say in 633.206(2)(b), “All such local authorities shall enforce, within their fire safety jurisdiction, the uniform fire safety standards for those buildings specified in paragraph (1)(b).” Lastly, the Division of State Fire Marshal’s Florida Administrative Code 69A-43 Uniform Fire Safety Standards for Transient Public Lodging Establishments, Timeshare Plans, and Timeshare Unit Facilities further address the required inspections of TPLEs and which specific prescriptive code sections to utilize.

Changing together

As Manatee County, Anna Maria Island and the vacation rental industry continue to grow and change, it is incumbent upon WMFR to keep up with the change. The fire district has a state mandate to protect the health, safety and welfare of those vacationing in transient public lodging establishments. To that end, WMFR wishes to partner with all state and local stakeholders to ensure those living, working and playing within our community are safe. Please join us at our first vacation rental stakeholders meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 31 at 10 a.m. at Holmes Beach City Hall.