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No vacancy: Vacation rental bill appears dead in Senate

“It looks like it might be dead in the water.”

Legislative efforts to pre-empt local regulations statewide of vacation rental homes may have died again this year.

On Wednesday, the Senate bill seeking to do so was temporarily postponed in a committee that is not scheduled to meet again.

Senate Bill 824 would pre-empt regulations and instead require vacation rental home owners to register with the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation, which could then regulate their uses.

The bill got postponed Wednesday at the Senate Committee on Industry, Innovation and Technology’s last scheduled meeting, meaning it’s not going to be heard there.

Chair Wilton Simpson did not offer any explanation during the meeting. The bill also was set to go before the Senate Appropriations Committee.

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“It looks like it might be dead in the water,” said Dennis Hanks, executive director of the Florida Vacation Rental Management Association.

It’s the third year in a row that bills with similar intentions died, though SB 824 is more clearcut than previous versions in its intentions to do away with local control of such rentals, often marketed through Airbnb, HomeAway, and other internet-based listing sites.

HB 987 has done better in the House, clearing all committees, but it no longer has a live companion. The sponsor, state Sen. Manny Diaz, a Republican from Hialeah, was not immediately available to comment.

Diaz’s bill argued the cases of vacation rental homes’ owners as a property rights issue, stipulating that the property owners should have the right to rent out their property for a few days at a time. They were titled as property rights’ bills.

The postponement came after a key group of opponents, concerned Florida homeowners organized by Our Neighborhoods, a coalition of community leaders, child safety advocates, homeowners, parents and homeowner association presidents, rallied at the Capitol Wednesday urging the bill be killed.

“What about our rights as real homeowners and neighbors?” Bonnie Sullivan, an Indian Rocks Beach homeowner, asked at the Our Neighborhoods event.

She and others argued many of the same points that have been pressed for years: Too often vacation rental homes can become neighborhood nuisances and that local communities know better than the state what is going on or appropriate for their areas, and so should have rights to decide how vacation rental homes would be regulated. Some recent polling has found Floridians agree with them.

The regulation efforts have pitted Florida’s traditional hotel industry against the internet-based marketers such as Airbnb and HomeAway, and state lawmakers against cities and counties not wanting to give up their home rule control.

Hanks said relief is increasingly necessary for the tens of thousands of vacation rental home owners, and many more who would like to join them, because since the Florida Legislature opened up local regulation in 2014, some cities and counties have introduced regulations “that almost prohibit vacation rentals.”

The patchwork of local rules can go block-by-block, causing what he called “crazy inequality, all across the state.” He predicted that Florida may see a significant rise in litigation as property owners challenge inequality in individual cases.

“We really don’t have any set of standards to run them,” Hanks said.

Written By

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at scott@floridapolitics.com.

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