After a decade of legislative battles over how much — if any — cities and counties should be allowed to regulate vacation rentals, Democratic Rep. Michael Grieco is proposing to just let the locals decide it all.
Grieco, of Miami Beach, filed a bill Wednesday that would wipe out state preemptions on local ordinances concerning vacation rentals and let cities and counties determine on their own how to regulate the vibrant 21st-century lodging business that is variously seen as an economic boon or social menace in various neighborhoods.
“I don’t think it’s a crazy concept to think that local elected officials are best positioned to decide what works in their cities and counties,” Grieco said.
House Bill 6033 declares “A local law, ordinance, or regulation may not prohibit vacation rentals or regulate the duration or frequency of rental of vacation rentals.”
It essentially would terminate a 2011 state law that forbids any new local vacation rental ordinances from that point forward. Grieco said that would help cities and counties that didn’t have anything on the books by 2011, and those like his hometown of Miami Beach, which he said found its laws needed more neighborhood-specific nuances or overall enforcement teeth.
“All politics is local, and maybe even more so regarding vacation rentals. Florida is a big state and what works for Tallahassee or Lake County may not work for South Beach,” he said. “Local communities are best positioned to decide what is or is not consistent with their residential neighborhoods. This is not an anti-AirBnB or short-term rental bill, but it is a bill that will ensure that municipalities have the ability to protect local quality of life.”
The bill could unleash what has been a fierce debate over the past decade over whether it’s fair or prudent that some counties or cities, such as Miami Beach, have strict laws and regulations regarding vacation rentals, while other communities across Florida have virtually none, outside ordinary zoning and public safety laws.
Already, critics of HB 6033 are predicting it could allow some communities to effectively abolish vacation rentals, wrecking a fairly new business model that combines internet marketing with homeowner entrepreneurship.
Over the past decade, the battles have drawn lines in multiple arenas.
The Florida League of Cities and Florida Association of Counties argued for local control, based on local standards, over local problems such as party houses; while vacation rental interests, notably the internet marketing platforms Airbnb and VRBO, argued for consistent, fair treatment across the state.
Traditional hotels argued loose regulations give vacation rentals unfair advantages as “mini hotels” over traditional lodging establishments in areas such as safety and sanitation. Vacation rental owners argued their property rights to make a little money from vacant houses, apartments, or bedrooms should be recognized and protected. Cities argue traditional homeowners have a property right to not see the house next door turned into a hotel.
Every year vacation rental bills seem to get more complex as they attempt to balance powerful interests, and get numerous legislative hearings with vigorous debate. Every year they die, with some bipartisan opposition. Last year, Senate Bill 522 died in the Senate Rules Committee, while House Bill 219 died in the House Ways & Means Committee.
“They’re bad bills,” Grieco said, offering the simple alternative of letting each city decide what it will accept.
“This is strictly allowing local government to protect people’s quality of life if that is what the local electorate wants to do,” he said.
Grieco’s bill drew swift and stern condemnation Thursday from the Florida Vacation Rental Management Association.
“This language allows local governments the right to pick winners and losers in each community, deciding who can rent and who cannot. It decides for a property owner how long they are allowed to rent and how many times per year. The right to own property in the United States and the bundle of rights afforded to every citizen in America is sacred. By proposing this bill you have completely undermined our Constitution and the fundamental rights of hundreds of thousands of hard working Floridians,” FVRMA Executive Director Denis Hanks wrote to Grieco Thursday.
“Our coalition represents thousands of owners and vacation rental managers in your district and from across the state that will fight this bill every step of the way,” Hanks vowed.
Jennifer Green, a lobbyist for Expedia, which includes the VRBO and HomeAway platforms, was incredulous.
“I think my biggest question for Rep. Grieco is, ‘why?'” she asked “What does he hope to accomplish?”
Expedia, she said, has long supported the current preemption that allows local governments to regulate vacation rentals except to prohibit or limit when they can be rented or for how long.
“I know my client does not support a repeal. In particular, this bill would open the door to allow local governments to prohibit vacation rentals — which would completely trample on private property rights,” she said.