Vacation rentals will reopen in Palm Beach County.
The county’s plan for safely reopening the industry is the 55th plan approved by the Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR). It is also the last of the three main hot spot counties in South Florida to get the OK.
Statewide, the policies are a patchwork of restrictions that can vary from one county to the next, cobbled together because Gov. Ron DeSantis last month allowed individual counties to submit their safety plans. That option provided the first bit of daylight for the industry, which felt singled out by the March order suspending all vacation rentals.
Panhandle counties, which had asked to reopen the industry crucial for their tourism economies, were the first counties allowed to reopen. Entering Memorial Day weekend, 38 counties’ plans were approved, and four more followed that Saturday.
Going into last weekend, vacation rentals were approved in 54 counties, including Broward County, which was not listed on DBPR’s website until this week.
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, and Connecticut. Some also mention Louisiana, recently removed from the Governor’s list of restricted places.
At least one county — Okeechobee — established a maximum threshold of 300 cases per 100,000 residents, based on input from DBPR Secretary Halsey Beshears. Other counties banned visitors from areas with more than 500 cases per 100,000 residents or 700 cases per 100,000 residents. Some counties have banned all out-of-state visitors, at least for now.
Once DeSantis announced that vacation rentals would be allowed to begin submitting reopening plans on May 18, Beshears advised counties to send their plans directly to him. The secretary quickly approved the proposals or made suggested tweaks to counties whose proposals he didn’t think were selective enough.
Shut down in late March and April while hotels continued operating, vacation-rental property owners, management companies and cleaning businesses inundated DeSantis with pleas to allow them to resume operations before the Memorial Day weekend.
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.