Senate OKs more regulations for online vacation rentals

colorful resort condominiums
The proposed law would give local municipalities some say over Airbnb properties.

A legislative attempt at giving cities and counties more control over vacation rentals offered on online platforms cleared the Senate and now awaits a final vote in the House.

Sen. Nick DiCeglie’s bill (SB 714) passed 28-10, largely along party lines. If it ultimately wins House approval and then the Governor’s signature, the bill would allow cities and counties to require vacation rentals to register and pay a fee to do business. It would also require online platforms such as Airbnb and VRBO to collect and remit sales taxes to the state.

Three bills in the House also address the issue, which in some areas has converted residential neighborhoods into party zones. The bill most similar to DiCeglie’s is the one on the move, however. Republican Rep. Wyman Duggan’s bill (HB 833) has been added to the second reading calendar in the House.

DiCeglie says he knows there’s an urgent need for locals to exercise some kind of control.

“I’ve got 20 municipalities in my district, many of them are beach communities and they have vacation rentals,” said DiCeglie, an Indian Rocks Beach Republican. “I wanted to be able to look them in the eye when this Session was over and say, ‘This is what we did to improve the situation back at home.’ It’s not perfect. Nothing up here we do is perfect.”

Beginning in 2011, municipalities were largely prohibited from regulating the proliferating business of online vacation rentals. DiCeglie highlighted his bill as giving locals more tools to address partying vacationers staying in rentals located within largely residential neighborhoods.

But the Florida League of Cities and individual municipalities had complained in committee the bill didn’t go far enough to control bad actors that have turned neighborhoods of single-family homes into party zones.

Sen. Jason Pizzo said local enforcement efforts are too easy to ignore and inadequate staffing at the Department of Business and Professional Regulation renders it toothless in the face of sheer volume.

“You know we have 50 investigators statewide for 1.6 million doors,” Pizzo said. “You would never staff a police department or any type of enforce(ment) agency with so few people.”

To the dismay of those wanting a change, this legislation wouldn’t require online platforms such as Airbnb and VRBO to post the address of the property being rented online. That would add a crucial tool to the cities’ ability to enforce registrations, constituent testimony revealed, including DiCeglie’s own Mayor in Indian Rocks Beach.

Mayor Joanne “Cookie” Kennedy, a Democrat, relayed how one code violator was claiming the property in question was not related to the code violation citations. It proved a difficult issue because the address where the violations were happening were never listed on the online site.

Thursday, DiCeglie added a provision that would allow municipalities to suspend a property’s registration if the vacation rental property received three or more code violations within 90 days.

His fellow Republicans acknowledged this legislation would not please everyone and congratulated DiCeglie for taking on a complex issue that has proved contentious in recent years.

“I think is a good strike of balance to make sure that we’re at least protecting the residential communities and we’re giving the local government the tools that they need to protect their community,” said Republican Sen. Debbie Mayfield of Brevard County.

Anne Geggis

Anne Geggis is a South Florida journalist who began her career in Vermont and has worked at the Sun-Sentinel, the Daytona Beach News-Journal and the Gainesville Sun covering government issues, health and education. She was a member of the Sun-Sentinel team that won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for coverage of the Parkland high school shooting. You can reach her on Twitter @AnneBoca or by emailing [email protected].


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