The sponsor of a bill to pre-empt local government regulation of vacation rental homes was approved by a House appropriations subcommittee Monday after its sponsor state Rep. James Grant promised there would be some significant changes before the next stop.
Grant, a Republican from Oldsmar, assured the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Government Operations and Technology that he intends to make major changes to the bill to give the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation authority to oversee vacation rentals, particularly to enforce rules against “bad actors.”
With that, despite much of the opposition that had helped kill similar vacation rental bills in recent years, from local governments, hotel interests, and others, the panel voted with a split vote to move the bill along to the Commerce Committee. House Bill 987, as written, would eliminate existing city and county ordinances that would specifically regulate, limit or prohibit people from renting out homes as short-term vacation rentals.
“There will be significant policy work done on this package,” Grant told the committee, pointing out that such changes will have to be brought to a policy committee. “It is a complex and complicated issue … There are things that I do not like in the bill. There are things that other stakeholders do not like in the bill.”
Particularly, Grant said he wants to see the provisions in HB 987 that would eliminate grandfathered local ordinances and regulations revisited, and that he is talking with DBPR Secretary Halsey Beshears about ways that department could address “bad actors” in the vacation rental business, and that he would have the resources to do so.
Grant expressed frustration that opponents have talked about all the grandfathered ordinances that would be invalidated, yet that no one has offered them to him or anyone else to review, and he urged stakeholders to bring them forth and come to the table to talk about them.
Yet Grant remained emphatic about the goals of the bill: deregulating vacation rentals at the local level, supporting property rights of vacation rental homeowners, and supporting the rising economy of individual rentals being marketed worldwide through such platforms as Airbnb and HomeAway.
The platforms have enabled individual houses or condominium units to become competitors with hotels, motels, and traditional bed-and-breakfasts, which have been pushing for regulation that could at least hold them accountable for safety and sanitation rules the traditional lodging establishments face. Similar arguments had emerged from taxicab companies in the face of platform-driven Uber and Lyft businesses, and now also from rental car companies in the rise of individual car rental platforms like Turo.
“The notion of tech-enabled services is an issue that we as legislators cannot hide from. And so there have been attempts to try to define what a platform is … and start regulating inside all of these different industries, rather than simply understanding that tech-enabled services are not only a massive portion of the economy of tomorrow, they are an increasing portion of the economy of today,” Grant said. “We can protect the entrenched stakeholder, or we can allow for innovation.”
That nonetheless still brings the complaints and concerns of local governments that houses or condos here or there becoming vacation rentals have at least occasionally led to profound disruptions in neighborhoods and municipalities, with horror stories ranging from out-of-control parties to porn-movie filming.
Grant argued that if the same complaints keep coming up since the Florida Legislature first began restricting and trying to eliminate local regulations in 2012, it suggests to him that the local governments are failing at controlling them anyway. And he argued that most if not all of the complaints should and could be addressed through normal local laws about such problems as noise, drinking, drugs, parking, or other troublesome behaviors.
On Monday lobbyists for homeowners associations and condo associations groups added the concern that, contrary to Grant’s assurances, they are convinced that the bill also could bring challenges to HOA and condo association restrictions against vacation rentals.
Lawmakers’ opposition Monday came from Democratic state Rep. John Cortes of Kissimmee, who insisted the local cities have had success in allowing but controlling vacation rentals, while he doubted the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation could have the workforce to do so.
Also opposed on several points was Republican state Rep. Melony Bell of Fort Meade, who voted yes but said that would change if the bill does not change.
“I just feel like we’re putting an unfunded mandate on the police right now,” she said, describing a scenario of a vacation rental moving in next door and then becoming a nuisance to the neighborhood, leaving no option except law enforcement. “If the language does not change between the third committee and the floor I will not support it because I think it is a home-rule issue, it needs to be back in the cities hands, the municipalities and counties, that they regulate, unless our stakeholders do come together, both sides, and they meet in the middle.”