Vacation rental preemption bill clears another Senate committee

The latest Senate attempt to create a statewide vacation rental homes licensing system and preempt local controls cleared its second committee Wednesday.

Republican Sen. Danny Burgess’ bill (SB 512) squeaked through the Senate Community Affairs Committee, in part on committee members’ expressed faith that he would improve the bill before it could reach the floor.

There have been numerous previous attempts over more than a decade to bring Florida’s vacation rental industry under a statewide regulatory umbrella. Like those prior efforts, SB 512 remains hotly contested. Some want uniform statewide regulation of vacation rentals while preserving individual property rights conflict, while others favor local controls that can address local situations, especially where vacation rentals become neighborhood problems.

“Vacation rentals are here to stay,” Burgess reminded the committee. “And it’s also something pretty neat. I think a lot of people benefit from it. A lot of people love it. It’s a choice. It’s an alternative to a hotel. You can have larger family gatherings there. There’s a lot of interesting, cool, innovative purposes to them.”

He added, “We have to find the way to manage both local opportunity to deal with the real issues and the state’s need to assure that you are able to deal with your property the way you think you should.”

Burgess’ latest iteration would require vacation rental homes to be licensed through the Department of Business and Professional Regulation and have the vacation rental home marketing platforms like VRBO and Airbnb confirm licensing and collect and remit taxes in order to list those properties for rent.

Except for those local communities that have pre-2011 ordinances, cities and counties would be limited to conducting essentially unenforceable registration of vacation rental homes.

During Wednesday’s discussion, there remained the concern that vacation rentals are proliferating rapidly in some areas, a trend driven by investors buying up residences and converting them to short-term rentals.

Clearwater Beach resident Samuel Hutkin took center stage with that concern, expressing the frustrations of the Clearwater Beach Association in dealing with countless vacation rentals, many of them run illegally.

“As a father, I’m worried about my children. I’m worried about my neighborhood,” said Hutkin, the association’s president. “I’ve fought for this country for over 20 years. This is the first time I feel powerless. … I believe this bill doesn’t have the protection needed, that local government can provide.

“If Detroit or any other city wants vacation rentals, let them have it. But if 90% of the people don’t, then obviously the local government needs to protect that,” Hutkin said.

SB 512 got some tweaks with a late amendment Wednesday that allows local governments to charge vacation rental registration fees of up to $50, or $100 for chains of up to 75 units; and allows the state to suspend a license for no more than 30 days for multiple code violations.

Samantha Padgett, vice president and general counsel for the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, urged a few more tweaks. Among them, she called for Burgess to consider requiring the state to share licensed vacation rentals’ address information with local governments; to require regular reporting and perhaps audits; to reconsider provisions she said provide for “inadequate fines”; to include a 15-day period for homes to cure compliance violations before they can be fined; and to allow a temporary license that permits the vacation rentals to be rented before a state license application is processed or approved.

On Jan. 11, the Senate Regulated Industries Committee approved HB 512 by a vote of 8-0. Its next stop is the Senate Rules Committee.

The House counterpart is HB 325from Republican Rep. Jason Fischer.


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