Vacation rentals reopening in 8 more counties

Add Alachua, Bradford, Columbia, DeSoto, Leon, Polk, Pasco and Seminole counties to the tally.

Vacation rentals can reopen in 50 counties after state officials cleared eight more safety plans Wednesday.

Alachua, Bradford, Columbia, DeSoto, Leon, Polk, Pasco and Seminole counties are joining the nearly three quarters of Florida’s 67 counties free to offer short-term vacation rentals.

Those plans, going into effect immediately, will locally reverse Gov. Ron DeSantisstatewide ban from late March.

Ahead of the Memorial Day weekend, the Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) approved 38 safety plans from counties. On Saturday, the department approved four more.

Earlier this month, the Governor announced individual counties could submit their safety plans to reopen short-term vacation rentals through DBPR for approval, the first bit of daylight for the industry that felt singled out by the March order.

Panhandle counties, which had asked to reopen the industry crucial for their tourism economies, submitted plans that weekend. Last week, those counties were the first approved by the department.

Signed amid concerns about spring breakers, the original executive order noted that vacation rentals are attractive destinations for out-of-state visitors, then the driving source of COVID-19 infections.

DeSantis’ Re-Open Florida Task Force, which included representatives from the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, Walt Disney World Resort and the Fontainebleau luxury hotel in Miami Beach, last month recommended including restrictions on vacation rentals for most of the state’s reopening process. The panel did not include voices from the vacation rental industry.

The task force recommended that hosts only be allowed to rent to Florida residents and be banned from accepting reservations from international travelers or from visitors who live in cities that are known hot spots for COVID-19. The panel did not recommend restrictions for hotels, motels, resorts and time-share developments.

All counties’ plans will discourage renting to travelers from hot spot regions identified by the Governor, namely New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Louisiana. Some counties go further, banning guests from states with 700 cases per 100,000 residents, adding Delaware, Illinois, Massachusetts, Michigan, Rhode Island and Washington, D.C. to their restrictions.

Vacation rentals are not only crucial to the Panhandle. In 2018, an estimated 11.2% of Florida’s visitors stayed in vacation rentals and the industry represented 1.6% of the total gross domestic product for Florida that year, according to a report from a January study by the University of Central Florida.

In Polk County, vacation rental homes make up nearly half of available rooms.

“The opening of the vacation rental homes segment of our hospitality market is just another indication that Polk County is ready to get back to work,” said Mark Jackson, the director of Polk County Tourism and Sports Marketing, the county’s destination marketing organization. “This detailed plan takes into (account) the best practices from the CDC and expands on them, indicating just how important we feel the safety of our guests and our hospitality workers should be to all of us.”

Renzo Downey

Renzo Downey covers state government 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 [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @RenzoDowney.

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