Nick DiCeglie: Getting it right — vacation rentals and private property rights

Vacation Rental House
The middle ground is elusive, but it is possible.

Private property rights and free enterprise are foundational principles of our democracy.

When our founding fathers enshrined these ideals in our form of government almost 250 years ago, they couldn’t have possibly imagined how innovations like VRBO or Airbnb would lead modern-day communities to question the proper role of government in regulating the use of private property. I doubt they envisioned endless streams of drug and alcohol-infused ragers, loud music, and trash disturbing quaint beachfront streets, either.

So here we are.

Once again, we are heading into a new Legislative Session attempting to strike the right balance for homeowners who want to live in peace, entrepreneurs who see potential in an emerging industry, tourists whose support drives our state’s economy, and local governments, whose best efforts to address these competing interests have been understandability inconsistent.

I wholeheartedly support the inventive spirit spurred by technological innovations that have created an insatiable market for vacation rentals across Florida. Unfortunately, the realities of living where others vacation make this developing industry a blessing and a curse for beach communities like my hometown of Indian Rocks Beach.

Over the last 15 years, the industry has changed dramatically. What started as a side hustle — renting out the family beach house for a few weeks in the summer — has turned into a multibillion-dollar industry. We’ve gone from grandma letting out the garage apartment on weekends to developers and corporations buying up block after block of beachfront property for exclusive use as short-term rentals.

There is no question that the realities of supply and demand make these investments tenable business decisions in many of our communities. According to recent reporting from Florida’s Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR), hotel and motel licenses increased by 21 or 0.0004% between the 2021 and 2022 reports (4,684 to 4,705). Meanwhile, single vacation rental dwellings increased by 6,768, or almost 30% (16,564 to 23,332).

Quite simply, small beach communities like mine have to accept that vacation rentals are here to stay. We don’t have to accept irresponsible and inappropriate conduct, which would never be tolerated by long-term tenants, destroying our communities and quality of life.

The middle ground is elusive, but it is possible.

Next week, the Senate Committee on Regulated Industries will consider my legislation, Senate Bill 280, which provides important tools local governments need to crack down on bad actors in the vacation rental industry and makes those options the same across the state.

Not all communities regulate vacation rentals, but the process should be consistent for those that do. The bill creates a uniform system for vacation rental registration that protects against price gouging by setting reasonable registration and inspection fees and designates a responsible person who is always available to respond to complaints or emergencies. There are fines for operating an unregistered vacation rental in an area where local government requires registration. The vast majority of people who occupy vacation rentals would never want to disturb the surrounding community. For this reason, vacation rentals shouldn’t be singled out as nuisances.

At the same time, you don’t get a free pass just because you are on vacation.

Everyone must adhere to local ordinances that seek to keep the peace and preserve the quality of life by imposing reasonable noise, trash, or parking expectations. Suppose a vacation rental is violating those requirements. In that case, owners need to take responsibility. SB 280 allows local governments to suspend a registration for violation of local ordinances and revoke or non-renew chronic offenders’ registrations, subject to proper notice requirements.

Under the bill, the state would oversee advertising platforms, enhancing consumer protections and tourist transparency.

These are just a few provisions of this important legislation.

Unfortunately, we didn’t get across the finish line last year. Over the last few months, I’ve listened to thoughts and feedback and worked to incorporate ideas brought forward by so many stakeholders. This is a top issue for my constituents.

I promised them we would get it right, and I am confident we will.

___

Nick DiCeglie represents District 18 in the Florida Senate.

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One comment

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