The 2021 legislative attempt to stop local governments from regulating vacation rental homes and make their oversight entirely a matter for state authorities was filed in the Senate Monday by Republican Sen. Manny Diaz Jr.
Senate Bill 522 would preempt local laws, ordinances and regulations that have been adopted since 2011 from allowing or requiring inspections or licensing of all lodging establishments and restaurants. It also would require licenses from the state Division of Hotels and Restaurants, with various mandates.
Various efforts to reign in local authority over the exploding vacation rental home industry have been underway in the Legislature for nearly a decade, with most previous efforts crashing in battles between cities and the state, and between vacation rental marketers and traditional hotels.
The efforts largely have the companies that market such properties through internet platforms, led by Airbnb and HomeAway, preferring the prospect of full state oversight over local control, which they contend has been inconsistent and on occasion overly burdensome to the businesses. Local authorities, including city and county associations, argue that every community is different and community standards need to apply.
Diaz, of Hialeah Gardens, was one of the sponsors of the primary 2020 effort, last year’s Senate Bill 1128, which was joined in the house by House Bill 1011 from Republican Rep. Jason Fischer of Jacksonville. SB 1128 died in committee, while HB 1011 died on the calendar at the end of the 2020 Legislative Session.
There is not yet a House version of SB 522.
The bill specifically defines vacation rental internet platforms and completely preempts them from local regulations. The bill requires the platforms’ client units to fully abide by state tourism tax codes, and requires the platforms to include that information on the internet listings, and the clients to post displays inside the units.
Prior to the coronavirus crisis collapsing much of Florida’s tourism economy last spring, the booming and inconsistently regulated vacation rental industry had grown to a $1.2 billion business in Florida, hosting 6.6 million visitors in 2019. The industry was shut down briefly last spring and has suffered a slow recovery.
Still, the vacation rental industry has shown more resilience than the traditional hotel and motel lodging industry, as many visitors apparently consider free-standing, private vacation rental homes or isolated vacation rental apartments to be safer from the pandemic than hotels and motels.