A measure looking to preempt local ordinances regulating vacation rentals cleared its first hurdle today in the Florida Legislature. The Senate Community Affairs Committee passed the bill by a vote of 4-2.
The rise of vacation rental companies like Airbnb and Home Away have seen new regulations across the state at the local level.
But some lawmakers, like Sen. Greg Steube (R-Sarasota), believe the lack of uniformity in these ordinances is problematic for business. Steube’s Florida Vacation Rental Act would stop local regulations and pass the majority of oversight to the Legislature.
“It was my intent to try to preempt the regulation of vacation rentals to the state so that there is some continuity across the state," says Steube.
Sen. David Simmons (R-Altamonte Springs) proposed a similar piece of legislation heard by the committee. The result is a committee substitute, a combination of the two bills.
The meeting saw a flurry of proposed amendments and public testimony.
Key provisions of Simmons’ bill will not appear in the committee substitute. Among other things, he sought to ensure local governments could regulate certain detached, single-family homes if no one permanently lives in them to protect the quality of the neighborhood.
“It’s not only the private property rights of a person who’s using his property, but those who surround a person who’s using his property because they have private property rights as well,” explains Simmons.
Under current law vacation rental owners have to get a license from the state, but many don’t. The proposed bill would enforce that by having unlicensed landlords face fines or have future licenses revoked.
As the bill currently stands, vacation rental owners will have to publicly display their license in the rental and in advertisements. The measure also preempts local governments and gives the Florida Division of Hotels and Restaurants regulatory power over vacation rentals and 1 percent of rentals would face random inspections each year.
The Florida Vacation Rental Management Association’s Lori Killinger praises the bill for cutting back on what the Association feels are restrictive ordinances.
“Senator Steube’s bill and amendment, in a way, hits a reset button, clears the deck a bit, and puts back for the first time clear, predictable regulation both at the state level and the local level,” says Killinger.
Local governments will maintain some control over regulations. Local ordinances passed before June of 2011 are grandfathered in. Local governments can impose new regulations if they apply uniformly to all residential properties, vacation rental or not. The measure also allows for the creation of local registries so cities and counties have a current list of vacation rentals within their boundaries.
But the Casey Cook of the Florida League of Cities argues that’s not enough. He says local ordinances are vetted by the communities they serve.
“I think it’s important to remember that any ordinance that’s adopted, any regulation that’s put in place by a local government goes through a process," says Cook. "There are multiple public hearings where all stakeholders can engage with the community. And what works in Orlando may not work in Weeki Wachee."
This is one of a number of bills this session that will determine the future power of local governments. The Republican-led Legislature has been trying to diminish the power of local government in recent years.