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Fight For Vacation Rental Regulations Heats Up At Capital

Shawn Mulcahy

Republicans Sen. Greg Steube (R-Sarasota) and Rep. Mike La Rosa (R-St. Cloud) are pushing back against local ordinances that regulate vacation rentals. The battle for home rule is heating up at the capitol.

Tourism is at the heart of Florida’s economy and two Florida lawmakers are leading the fight for vacation rental owners. Two bills have been introduced that aim to preempt local ordinances regulating vacation rentals. The Senate version of the bill would place oversight of vacation rentals under the Division of Hotels and Restaurants. Additionally, it specifies vacation rental owners must obtain a license and that the properties be treated as transient rentals. Steube and La Rosa say the goal of the bill is to stop local governments from overstepping their bounds.

"I have seen, all throughout the state where local governments have been infringing on that right and telling you what you can and cannot do with your property and how you can and cannot rent it out,” says Steube.

Lisa Robertson, a vacation rental owner from Destin, views local ordinances as attacks to by the hotel industry to squash competition that harms middle class homeowners.

“In communities with powerful hotel industries…their unfair manipulation of zoning, permitting and home rule code enforcement are obvious to any interested party not already oppressed by the abuse of home rule in Destin," says Robertson.

Furthermore, she says bad actors “masquerading as municipal home rule advocates” have violated the private property rights of people throughout the state, especially in Miami. She also claims these programs help Florida.

However, Chris Cook of the Florida League of Cities says that vacation rentals don’t necessarily have Florida’s best interests in mind. If they’re licensed by the state, vacation rentals pay taxes just like hotels. But he says that’s often not the case.

“What we’re seeing out there is a whole lot of unlicensed activity and I would argue that that’s money that’s not being paid to the state of Florida," says Cook.

Cook also says local regulations are vetted by the communities they serve, and that local elected officials respond to what’s best for their community. If the state wants to raise the floor of regulations, he says he’s in favor of that. But he argues that a one-size-fits-all approach to vacation rentals is contrary to Florida’s diverse economy.

“If the state acknowledges that there is a problem then the state should be able to raise that floor of regulation but if the problem continues to exist the locals need to have authority to address that problem," Cook says. "And by completely preempting across the board to the state – you are preventing that from happening.”

Last week, West Park Democrat Representative Shevrin Jones and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum voiced support for home rule laws. They argue the most responsive government is the one closest to the people.

The two proposals are currently moving through committees within the Legislature. If passed, the measures would preempt local laws, part of an ongoing fight about the role local government in Florida politics.

Shawn Mulcahy is a reporter and All Things Considered host for WFSU. He graduated from Florida State University in 2019 with majors in public relations and political science. He was previously an intern at WFSU, and worked as an Account Coordinator at RB Oppenheim Associates.