Time runs out on vacation rentals fight

Vacation Rental House
A key Senate committee ran out of time Tuesday before taking up the issue.

A legislative fight over further restricting local governments’ ability to regulate vacation rental properties appears to have withered, after a key Senate committee ran out of time Tuesday before taking up the issue.

Wrangling about oversight of short-term rentals has escalated in the Republican-controlled Legislature as the popularity of properties advertised on platforms such as Airbnb has mushroomed.

But, with time running out on the 2021 Legislative Session, Senate Rules Chairwoman Kathleen Passidomo announced Tuesday that the Senate proposal (SB 522) would be postponed. The committee is not slated to meet again before the Session ends April 30.

Passidomo has worked behind the scenes on the Senate proposal, which has undergone major revisions since it was filed in January by Sen. Manny Diaz Jr., a Hialeah Republican.

Listing bills her committee would not consider at the end of Tuesday’s meeting, Passidomo noted she “would love to hear” the vacation-rentals bill “since I worked all Session on it.”

The House version of the bill (HB 219) also did not make it out of committees.

At the heart of the debate is an effort to “preempt” regulation of short-term rental properties to the state, an idea that has drawn vehement opposition from city and county officials because it would take away local authority.

Diaz’s original proposal would have required online platforms to collect and remit taxes on vacation rental properties, something the platforms have not been required to do in the past. The measure also included a requirement for platforms to ensure that only properly licensed rentals are advertised and provide the state with specific information about the rentals.

In exchange, local governments would have been largely prevented from licensing or inspecting rentals.  Local governments could have only regulated the rentals in the same way as other properties in neighborhoods, a restriction that cities and counties strenuously opposed.

But changes offered by Diaz and adopted by the Senate Appropriations Committee last month deleted the regulatory preemption parts of the bill, while leaving in requirements making platforms responsible for such duties as collecting and remitting taxes to the state and ensuring rental properties are licensed.

Diaz also authored an amendment, which was slated to be considered by the Rules Committee on Tuesday, that would have allowed local governments to create a vacation rental “registration program,” charge up to $50 for properties to be listed on the registry and issue fines for properties that fail to register with the local program.

Republican lawmakers have not been able to reach agreement on the vacation-rentals issue in recent years, in part because of constituents’ complaints about problems with vacation properties in their neighborhoods.

People have complained about loud noise at “party” houses, as well as issues with parking and trash.

During a committee meeting last month, Senate Minority Leader Gary Farmer said he could not support proposed restrictions on the authority of local governments to address vacation rentals. Farmer, a Lighthouse Point Democrat, said his district includes two cities that are in the 10 most-popular vacation rental sites in the state.

“When you purchase a home in a single-family residential neighborhood, you have an expectation of solitude and peace and tranquility,” he said. “I just still believe there should be no restrictions.”

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Republished with permission from the News Service of Florida.

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