Airbnb and five of its clients filed suit against the city of Miami Friday over a controversial move the city made last month to ban vacation rental homes in residential districts.
At issue is whether and how cities can regulate vacation rental homes, a rapidly increasing part of the lodging industry in which homeowners turn their spare bedrooms or whole houses into short-term rentals to accommodate tourists and other visitors who prefer homes to hotels.
The Florida Legislature essentially prohibited cities and counties from banning them in 2011, except for those local governments that already had laws on the books. In March the Miami City Commission approved a resolution put forward by Mayor Tomas Regalado that essentially interprets the city’s ordinances, as outlined in the Miami 21 codes, as already banning vacation rentals.
That interpretation was news to Airbnb, the largest marketing company of vacation rental properties. In the suit filed Friday the company alleges the existing ordinances have no such ban, and also claims that the city of Miami is cracking down on those operating in Miami since the March 23 3-2 approval by the city commission.
No one was available at the Miami city attorney’s office to comment on the suit late Friday. The city has not yet filed an answer to the Airbnb complaints.
The Miami strategy began in 2015 with a legal interpretation adopted by the city’s zoning administrator, the suit charges.
“The Individual Plaintiffs had never heard of the City’s vacation rental prohibition before 2015, and it was not for a lack of looking. It simply was not in Miami 21,” the suit states.
The wording of the Miami 21 zoning code, the suit charges, has no mention of a vacation rental ban, no published interpretations that it does, and that there had been no previous enforcements of any vacation rental prohibition, according to the suit.
The Airbnb suit seeks a court declaration that vacation rental homes are not probated as Regalado had maintained. It also demands that the city stop going after any owners of vacation rental homes in Miami.
Some of that crackdown has come against Miami residents who spoke in opposition of the resolution at that March 23 meeting, and Airbnb also alleges city officials are specifically targeting them, violating their First Amendment rights, the suit alleges.
“The City has recently undertaken an aggressive anti-Airbnb campaign that includes threats against individual Airbnb hosts who attended a City Commission meeting to publicly voice their support for vacation rentals in Miami. The City is now acting to make good on those threats,” the suit alleges. “Airbnb stands together with its Miami hosts in opposing the City’s unlawful efforts, and in particular stands with the brave individuals who have come forward and seek to protect their rights as Individual Plaintiffs in this action.”