The latest legislative proposal to preempt local regulation of vacation rental homes got a thumbs-up Monday from the Florida Senate Committee on Innovation, Industry, and Technology, yet with little enthusiasm.
Sen. Manny Diaz‘s Senate Bill 1128 is an annual attempt with a new twist this year. SB 1128 preempts local governments from treating vacation rental homes like those found on Airbnb, HomeAway and other advertising platforms any differently from other residential properties in terms of regulations for such things as occupancy, noise, parking, fees, or health and safety inspections.
SB 1128, like its House counterpart HB 1011, also seeks to create a more reliable statewide system to regulate and monitor such properties, which could be someone’s spare bedroom, or whole houses, apartments, or condominium units rented out by the day, usually to tourists and other visitors.
It calls for the properties to be licensed by the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation, the same agency that licenses hotels, motels, and traditional beds and breakfasts.
And it forbids “advertising platforms,” presumably like those offered by Airbnb an HomeAway, from listing any properties that do not include their state license number, along with tax ID numbers. That would address the concerns raised everywhere that black market [untaxed] vacation rentals are proliferating.
The past several years, bills seeking to close down local regulation and inspections of vacation rentals bogged down and died. Local communities and many neighbors of vacation rentals complained that some can become out of control, lack accountability, and are inappropriate to many neighborhoods, while the traditional lodging industry complained that the vacation rentals don’t play by the same rules, but cannot be stopped without explicit local regulations.
Others heralded the emerging home-sharing industry as not only a popular alternative for visitors but a good way for homeowners to make a little more money, and fashioned the bottom line on an argument for property rights.
In the end, Diaz’s bill drew many of the same splits. Airbnb, the Florida Chamber of Commerce, and other business groups expressed support. The Florida League of Cities, the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, the Florida Association of Counties, a few specific cities and counties and a handful of neighbors of existing vacation rentals offered opposition.
“The Florida League of Cities is disappointed the short-term rental bill, SB 1128, passed through its first stop today in the Senate Innovation, Industry and Technology Committee,” the league stated in a news release. “City officials will continue to be heard on this issue and provide local examples of how this sweeping preemption would deeply threaten the safety and quality of our neighborhoods. During committee testimony, the League offered multiple solutions on how to amend this bill to create a safe, workable environment for short-term rentals in Florida.”
So did others, including many of the committee members who voted for the bill.
Various members of the Florida Senate Committee on Innovation, Industry, and Technology offered what sometimes sounded like grudging support as they asked Diaz to consider specific concerns they had.
“I stand in a unique place where this bill is not a huge bill in my district, which allows me to be very neutral and listen to both sides,” said Diaz a Hialeah Gardens Republican. “So I’m thankful for all the comments on both sides. … I think this is a different opportunity. I think we can reach a good product.”
Yet the prospect that the new bill would call on the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulations opened up a whole new set of issues among committee members. Essentially it boiled down to: If the state is going to regulate vacation rentals, then the state would have to get serious about regulating vacation rentals.
Among the concerns brought up Monday:
Sen. Oscar Braynon, a Miami Gardens Democrat, asked that rental anti-discrimination language be written into the bill.
Sen. Audrey Gibson, a Jacksonville Democrat, asked that a provision be added to assure that no state affordable-housing money can be used on a property that becomes a vacation rental property.
Vaguely citing testimony Monday that had warned against vacation rentals being used in human trafficking, by sexual offenders, and for production of pornographic movies, Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, a Fort Myers Republican, sought language that would force the advertising platforms to vet renters to screen out “people who do bad things” especially dealing with children victims.
Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, a Naples Republican, raised concerns that vacation rentals are becoming so prevalent in some communities that the economics might drive away residents.
‘What could happen if we are not vigilant is we could have cities that just become one vacation rental after another,” she said. “We can’t just preempt. We have to preempt and set parameters. I don’t think we’re there yet.”