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Home Vacation Short-term vacation rental bill passes in FL Senate, but regulations on the issue remain unsettled • Florida Phoenix

Short-term vacation rental bill passes in FL Senate, but regulations on the issue remain unsettled • Florida Phoenix

by Staff

Florida lawmakers took significant steps Thursday toward regulating short-term vacation rental platforms like Airbnb and Vrbo, but local officials fear that the measure won’t resolve the conflicts that have existed for years in their communities.

That said, the Florida Senate passed a measure [SB 280) that includes the issue of occupancy for statewide vacation rental regulations:

The bill says that the maximum overnight occupancy of a vacation rental cannot exceed two persons per bedroom, plus an additional two persons in one common area, or more than two persons per bedrooms if at least 50 square feet per person, plus an additional two persons in one common area, whichever is greater.

The bill also gives the property owner up to 15 days to cure a problem.

South Florida Democratic Sen. Jason Pizzo said that’s too long. He said that most short-term renters who may be creating a problem would have ended their stay by that time. Pizzo did not vote for the bill.

The measure also allows local governments to charge a “reasonable fee” to a vacation rental owner to register the property. If there’s a problem with that registration, the owner could be fined up to $500.

And a vacation rental registration can be suspended for violations of an ordinance that does not apply solely to vacation rentals — but only if there have been five or more violations on five separate days during a 60-day period. It can be suspended for up to 60 days for one or more violations on five separate days during a 30-day period, and up to 90 days for one or more violations after two prior suspensions.

In addition, the bill says that a responsible party who is “capable” of responding to complaints or emergencies related to a vacation rental must be available by telephone 24 hours a day and seven days a week.

But opponents say that could end up being a 1-800 answering service number.

State Sen Nick DiCeglie of Pinellas County. Credit: Florida Senate.

Overall, Pinellas County Republican Nick DiCeglie, said the legislation is a “fair and balanced” approach to an issue that has divided residential communities and the rights of property owners in recent years.

While conceding that every community in Florida is separate and distinct, he said that a state law is needed to prevent local ordinances, which he says are being used by local governments “as a weapon to stop vacation rentals from operating at all.”

“I have a fundamental problem with that,” he declared in his closing statement on the Senate floor.

Broward County Democratic Sen. Tiny Polsky said it was impossible to balance the rights of everyone living in areas with vacation rentals, which is why she said the power to regulate these platforms should go to the local governments.

“You talk about the property rights of people,” she said. “I get it…but equally so are the rights of people who buy the house next door, who expect it to be quiet and peaceful and raise their family there.  And so how do you ever come up with the right balance in a state this size? You can’t. And that’s why, like so many other things, you shouldn’t preempt local government.”

Pizzo expressed frustration and anger in voicing his opposition to the proposal.

“If someone in my district, is harmed by an Airbnb renter, I’m going to blame the people who voted for this bill,” he said.

“That’s not fair,” DiCeglie countered. “That’s not right.”

The measure was supported mostly along party lines, but it’s equivalent in the Florida House (HB 1537) still has more committee stops to go to try to mesh with the Senate version.

Meanwhile, in a House subcommittee on Thursday, Panhandle-area Republican Philip Wayne Griffitts, Jr. is sponsoring the vacation rental measure and the House and Senate are not the same.

For example, the House limits local governments from charging only $150 to register a vacation rental.

The House version also says that to respond to a complaint or emergency related to a vacation rental, the responsible party would have up until 9 a.m. the next calendar day to respond to that complaint.

Melbourne Beach Mayor Alison Dennington in Tallahassee on Feb. 1 2024 (photo credit: Mitch Perry)

Among those who testified in the subcommittee against the proposal was Alison Dennington, who was just elected last November as mayor of Melbourne Beach, which is considered the oldest beach community in Brevard County. In her campaign last year, Dennington said that she wanted to create a hotline to report on problematic short-term rentals.

She said that the controversy over the regulation of short-term vacation rentals is a huge issue for small towns like hers, and the voices of those communities aren’t respected in Tallahassee.

She also told the Florida Phoenix, that if the Legislature does approve a measure related to vacation rentals this year, the only solution would be a grassroots effort to put up a citizen’s amendment to the Florida Constitution.

“It’s an assault on single-family zoning,” Dennington said of the state taking over more control over vacation rentals. “In my area we have Democrats and Republicans and No-Party and independents, and I can tell you the only thing that they agree on and all of them are pissed off about is the fact that we can’t regulate short-term rentals,” she told the Phoenix.

The Legislature last addressed the issue of short-term rentals in 2014.

That’s when they allowed local governments to have the ability to handle issues such as noise, parking and trash related to short-term vacation rentals, but still prevented them from regulating the duration or frequency of short-vacation rentals.

That measure came after significant pushback from a 2011 law that prohibited local governments from enacting any new law that restricted the use of vacation rentals, prohibited vacation rentals or regulated vacation rentals, giving that power to the state government.

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