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Troy Flanagan: Florida lawmakers must protect tourism by addressing illegal rentals

On behalf of the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA), I am honored to go before the Senate Community Affairs Committee tomorrow to discuss short-term rentals — an important topic of concern in recent years given the emergence of online rental platforms. While these platforms provide people with a new method to access and advertise short-term rentals, there have also been many unintended side effects.

Alarmingly, these platforms are being exploited by commercial operators who run illegal hotels without adhering to Florida’s commercial rental laws — putting legal hotels at an unfair competitive disadvantage, and tourists and residential neighborhoods at risk from a health and safety perspective. Countless Floridians have even felt the effects of this platform manipulation on their basic peace of mind — ask anyone who has found themselves living next door to something akin to a year-round spring break party house.

Unfortunately, solutions were met with contention last legislative session, despite voices from around the State speaking up and bringing attention to these illegal hotel loopholes. Prominently among these voices was AirbnbWATCHFlorida, comprised of Florida residents and commercial lodging businesses of all sizes. The coalition that is AirbnbWATCHFlorida was — and remains — focused on the need for solutions that protect Florida’s careful balance as a tourism leader and ideal place to call home. Since the last session adjourned without a remedy, we must swiftly restart this important discussion.

Florida is a mecca for tourism, continually inviting new and innovative industry endeavors. But with any new business development — like online short-term rental platforms — there comes a time when that change must be reviewed to ensure operations are occurring fairly and soundly, in order to protect consumers who choose to utilize that new business offering, as well as those who may be unintentionally impacted by it.

As such, AHLA believes Florida lawmakers should give thoughtful attention to this issue this legislative session and consider the following commonsense solutions to better rein in illegal commercial operators:

1) Adherence to Florida statutes that address public accommodations — Section 509 — with basic business registration, standard data transparency, and improved local government input;

2) Compliance with State and local tax obligations, including standard audit compliance, similar to every other Florida business; and

3) Requirements for the removal of noncompliant short-term rental listings from online platforms, and requirements to ensure commercial insurance is in place for commercial businesses.

Just as important as protecting its place as a leader in tourism, Florida also needs reasonable regulations like these to safeguard its residents and families. One’s home is a sacred place — it’s where you rest your head at night and put food on the table for your family — and it should be enjoyed without concerns of a constant revolving door of strangers at a neighboring illegal hotel.

Floridians and tourists should not have to worry about bad actors in the lodging industry. By updating policy to protect from illegal commercial operators that are taking advantage of online short-term rental platforms, Florida can remain both an ideal place to live and a leader in the tourism industry now, and in the future; and we are hopeful that lawmakers will again give serious consideration to this issue this session.


Troy Flanagan is the vice president for state and local affairs for the American Hotel & Lodging Association.


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