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Ron DeSantis opens door to return of vacation rentals

Counties must outline their approach and safety precautions to let rentals reopen.

Counties wishing to reopen vacation rentals can submit their plan to do so to the Department of Business and Professional Regulation for approval, Gov. Ron DeSantis says.

In late March, the Governor suspended most vacation rental reservations and advertising. But as the state continues to ease its COVID-19 lockdown, mounting calls have asked DeSantis to restore rentals, or at least do so regionally.

“What we’re doing is telling counties, if you want short-term rentals, you request it to be authorized through the state and provide your safety plan,” he said in Jacksonville Friday as he announced the “Full Phase One.”

Although the Governor has expressed his desire to reopen the industry, he extended the ban indefinitely under the initial first phase of the state’s reopening process.

But counties can now submit their strategies to be considered on a case-by-case basis. The report must include the county’s approach and safety precautions to maintain public health during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Re-Open Florida Task Force’s report suggests vacation rentals could open to Florida residents in Phase Two, but doesn’t recommend a full reopening until Phase Three. However, the Governor has deviated from his task force on some items, like when to reopen bars.

Vacation rentals have become a popular getaway alternative for tourists and spring breakers, who have drawn DeSantis’ ire throughout the pandemic. Through Phase One and onward, one of the tenets of the state’s response is preventing out-of-state travelers from reseeding the disease in the Sunshine State.

According to the original executive order, “many cases of COVID-19 in Florida have resulted from individuals coming into the state from international travel and other states, posing great risk to Florida residents.”

Additionally, “vacation rentals and third-party platforms advertising vacation rentals in Florida present attractive lodging destinations for individuals coming into Florida.”

DeSantis again Friday outlined keeping those from hot spot communities out of the state.

“If you tell me you’re going to rent them out to people from New York City, I’m probably not going to approve that, OK?” he said. “If you’re saying that, you know, you’re going to rent it out to people in other parts of Florida or something that would be manageable or if there’s ways in there that clearly you have an eye to safety, then I’m fine.”

Last week, Panhandle state representatives and Panama City Beach Mayor Mark Sheldon authored letters to the Governor asking for permission to reopen, but not with specific plans. On Friday, DeSantis acknowledged those calls.

“I’m also mindful of the fact that this epidemic — and I said this from the beginning — was not something that was affecting the state in an even way,” he said. “You had different parts that were more-significantly affected. You have had other parts, parts of the Panhandle have been incredibly lightly affected, and so they want to be able to do some of these things.”

Vacation rental owners and advocates and Northwest Florida officials have pointed out that hotels, motels, inns, resorts and timeshares remained open throughout the pandemic. The vacation rental industry generates an estimated $27 billion annually in the state, according to a report by the University of Central Florida’s Rosen College of Hospitality Management.

But requiring county and state officials to bless the vacation rental reopening plans could take weeks, said Denis Hanks, executive director of the Florida Vacation Rental Management Association.

“The relief for places like the Panhandle and others that are contingent upon the Memorial Day weekend and being open, it could really take them out of the whole picture,” Hanks said in a telephone interview.

The Governor offered an explanation Friday for the continued ban beyond now-stale spring breaker concerns.

“Part of the thing is I have National Guard — I’ve got all these National Guard I’ve got to put up,” DeSantis said. “I’ve got other people I’ve got to put up, so we needed to have an ability to have hotels, so it’s a little bit different situation.”

The vacation rental ban includes a carveout for those performing military or government duties and emergency, health or infrastructure responses. Additionally, those on business trips or staying more than 30 days may rent.

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Material from the News Service of Florida was used in this post.

Written By

Renzo Downey covers the Florida Legislature for Florida Politics. After graduating from Northwestern University in 2019, Renzo began his reporting career in the Lone Star State, covering state government for the Austin American-Statesman. Shoot Renzo an email at renzo@floridapolitics.com and follow him on Twitter @RenzoDowney.

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