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Flagler Seeks, Flagler Wins: Bill Restoring Vacation-Rental Regulation Authority Passes House and Heads for Scott’s Desk

| May 1, 2014

There will be regulations.

There will be regulations.

As victories go, this one ranks very high for the Flagler County Commission. Thursday morning, the Florida Senate voted 37-2 to give back some home-rule authority to local governments to regulate short-term vacation rentals, an authority the Legislature withdrew in 2011. The House had voted on the measure, 90-27, on Wednesday. The bill now goes to Gov. Rick Scott for his signature.

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The Flagler County Commission has been leading the fight to overturn that 2011 decision for more than two years. What at first appeared to be a lost cause, then a long shot, turned into an inevitability as commissioners, combining legislative skills and grass-roots organizing of other counties and cities similarly affected, put their local legislative delegation to work on their behalf. That delegation–Sen. John Thrasher, the St. Augustine Republican, and Rep. Travis Hutson, whose district includes all of Flagler County–went to work, and a few sparks aside, got the job done.

“It is rare to pass a piece of substantive legislation,” Flagler County Attorney Al Hadeed, who shepherded the measures through the Legislature on Flagler’s behalf, wrote county commissioners this morning to announce the victory. “2,000 bills get filed every year. Only 200 pass and most of those do not affect public policy. Savor it, this is rare.”

The final version of the bill was somewhat watered down from the version Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, originally filed in the Senate. The House version, filed by Travis Hutson, R-St. Augustine, included some amendments that Hutson himself pushed, weakening the bill in favor of the vacation-rental industry, but also likely ensuring its broader support and final passage.

The senate version had originally included an allowance to ban weekend rentals

For example, a local government may not prohibit short-term rentals outright. It may not regulate the duration of a rental by setting minimums or eliminating weekend-only bookings. And it may not dictate the number of rentals a property may book in any given year, whether six or 12 or more over the course of that year.

Al Hadeed. (© FlaglerLive)

Al Hadeed. (© FlaglerLive)

“Those three items responded to the rhetoric that if local governments were given the power of home rule, that they would run amok, ride roughshod over vacation rental owners,” Hadeed said Thursday. Hadeed was again in Tallahassee Thursday, this time alone. On numerous previous trips he’d been accompanied by Commissioners Frank Meeker and Charlie Ericksen, then by Nate McLaughlin, who themselves made numerous appearances before Senate and House panels as the bills made their way through committees.

“So these provisions,” Hadeed continued, “were designed to assure that local governments would stay within the bounds of typical regulation of business enterprises. What the legislation recognizes is that these are business, and local governments just like any other kind of businesses, can regulate them.”

Opponents of regulation–and of overturning the Legislature’s 2011 law prohibiting local regulations–included the lucrative short-term rental industry and the real estate industry, both of whose voices are always heard loudly at the Legislature through legions of lobbyists. But opponents also included many homeowners who, as in the Hammock, took a stand on the right to use their properties as they chose, on property-rights grounds, while keeping those properties on the tax rolls instead of on the auction block.

Short-term vacation rentals have divided previously dormant communities like the Hammock. The housing crash created the conflict as heavily indebted property owners found a way to keep their houses by converting them into vacation rentals, but at a steep price to community cohesion.

Homeowners who’d bought houses to live in quietly had not bargained for what amounted to neighboring mansions turning into sprawling, noisy, party-rife businesses that could pile in as many as 20 vacationers on lots designed for single-family homes, and jeopardize all sorts of safety standards along the way. Local governments would normally have the power to regulate such short-term rentals, just as they would have the power to regulate any business under zoning laws. But in 2011, in an effort to spur the short-term rental industry and stem homeowners’ losses, the Legislature prohibited such regulations. It singled out short-term rentals as a privileged business class now immune from local governments’ zoning or code enforcement inspectors.

The Senate had passed that prohibition unanimously in 2011, and the House had passed it with a crushing 94-19 margin. If Flagler was going to persuade Tallahassee to reverse course, it was going to have to convince those majorities that they had made a mistake. Lawmakers don’t often do that.

This week, they did.


“Senator Thrasher and I made a promise to our constituents to file a bill that would return the
regulation of vacation rentals back to local government,” Hutson said in a press release Thursday. “I am proud to announce that we have kept that promise.”

Meeker, in the same release, thanked the legislators and moved to the next step: “Now, it’s up to us at the local level to close that door and open up the next one across the hall where regulatory LDC revisions are done,” he said, referring to Land Development Code regulations.

Until now, state law prohibited local governments from so much as holding hearings or any other sort of public meeting where potential regulations of the industry could be discussed. That prohibition has been lifted. The Flagler County Commission is expected to move swiftly toward regulations.

“What they might be, I cannot predict,” Hadeed said. “That’s going to be vetted in a very extensive public hearing process that probably will include workshops because it has been such a central issue in Flagler County in the last two years.”

But the county has many options, Hadeed said, especially after analyzing what other communities that had such regulations in place–before the 2011 prohibition.

Assuming the governor signs the bill, the county will be able to require that all short-term vacation rentals register, identify their owners and responsible parties and include a point of contact that can be reached 24 hours a day to address nuisance issues. The county may have the authority to inspect short-term rental facilities and ensure that safety standards are enforced. Those bunk beds in the garage may have to go. The county may also regulate the properties’ capacity, or number of renters, based on their use of local sewer or septic systems. If road hazards are an issue–if a house’s access by fire trucks, for example, is somehow restricted by the activities of a short-term rental–regulation may be imposed through that route.

In short, the short-term rentals will no longer be the only private enterprise that had been given a complete exemption from local zoning. It was the only private enterprise granted this “exclusive, special privilege,” Hadeed said. “It was a mistake. A serious public policy mistake.”

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19 Responses for “Flagler Seeks, Flagler Wins: Bill Restoring Vacation-Rental Regulation Authority Passes House and Heads for Scott’s Desk”

  1. Rick Belhumeur says:

    Excellent News. Now the Commission has a little work to do.

  2. Rich says:

    This does not solve the animal house type atmosphere that goes on some of the short-term rentals. Put controls back in the hands of the county as well as the communities. Return the neighborhoods to the people.

    • Sheri says:

      Do you have first hand experience with the “animal house type atmosphere” you reference? I have found that most who complain do so from afar and have had no real encounters like the ones they complain about. Nonetheless, short term rental, long term rental or homeowners – everyone has to adhere to the laws in place regarding keeping the peace. If there are issues that need to be addressed call the authorities for assistance. Vacation renters in our community support all of the local businesses and infuse the overall local economy with dollars that no one can complain about. Vacation rental properties are generally much better kept up so as to be of interest and value to vacation renters. There should be regulations governing vacation rentals, and hopefully the city commissioners will not make ridiculous decisions a la red light cameras.

  3. Motel Operator says:

    I operate a Motel in the Hammock and I have to pay a 11% bed tax these other people renting their homes don’t pay that tax.I get inspected by both the state and county they don’t. I am being punished for doing things right if they want to run their homes on a short term basis they should have to go about it the same as I do.

    • Anonymous says:

      i agree vacation home rentals should pay a bed tax an go thru same inspections also local realty company selby flagler beach will tell you rent a home for six months an one day,no taxes will be applied.sounds pretty shady to me.

    • Lisa D says:

      Dear Motel Operator and anyone else thinking that small vacation rental houses do not pay the 11% tax and are not inspected. We have a vacation rental house and we are subject to inspection as per the State law, just as Hotels and Motels do. Additionally, we pay the 11% tax (it was 10% when we started). Our house is only about 1500 sq ft, but we have all the regulations from the State that the large hotels and vacation rental agencies have. If anything, the hotels and rental agents have a huge advantage. They pay only 1 fee for all of the property or properties that they manage, while we have to pay that same amount just for one property

  4. Dennis McDonald says:

    This is a typical government fix of a real problem made by legislation and made worse by special interests “fixing” it ! These folks can all pat themselves on the back but they did not fix anything other than to further eliminate Zoning.

    Zoning was created as a method to classify uses of property to maintain public safety, health, comfort for the welfare of the community. What has now been made legal is having multi family use in single family Zones ! Except now the local government is allowed some ability to check abuses, WOW great job.

    Thrasher came to Flagler last September and admitted in public session at the BOCC that he [they T Town] made a bad law. This special consideration for special interests [paid $$ to lobbyists] was tagged on to a Public Lodging Establishments & Public Food Service Establishments bill where nobody would pay any attention, we did but it was to late !

    This is a lose/lose for Florida. When you buy your home the lobbyists could Rezone it depending on how much money your new neighbor has. What’s next the BOCC building rental property on our park lands for “County Profit ” like the profit we got from the PC Golf course and Tennis Club…it’s here they are considering it NOW ! The next step Casinos at Princess Place now that’s a Green Industry.

    Dennis McDonald

    • Carol Mikola says:

      One hardly knows where to begin to critique Dennis McDonald’s latest gripe(s). Should one focus on correcting the spelling, the punctuation, or the capitalization? It would be relevant to point out his inability to express his thoughts in a coherent manner OR one could simply dispute the “facts” as presented. It’s a big task. Anyone out there want to handle all or even a part of this?

      There are two things about his latest complaints that really stand out, at least to me.
      1. He’s complaining about news that is good for the county and
      2. His refusal to acknowledge the Florida House and Senate for correcting a law that was passed
      in 2011. Nor does he give any credit to our 3 Republican County Commissioners whose unrelenting advocacy for county homeowners resulted in the desired changes.

      HE and HE alone has all of the answers…or so he thinks.

    • Roger and Janice Cullinane says:

      Legislation enacted in 2011 took away the power of our local governments to do anything to control short-term rentals. Mini-hotels were being built in single family residential communities and being rented on a weekly (and sometimes on a nightly) basis to up to 25 occupants at a time. Renters would arrive in as many as nine cars which had to be parked somewhere in our neighborhoods; sometimes they even arrived in buses. Homes have been built in our community strictly for rental with up to 11 bedrooms and homes have been proposed to be built with over 15 bedrooms. The dining rooms in some of these mini-hotels look like restaurants. The Rental Agents were happy to rent the properties on a nightly basis to be used to host wedding receptions with 50 and more “guests” at a time. Vacationers were partying all night long, disrupting the lives of the residents unfortunate enough to be living next to these transient rental businesses. Contrary to what Dennis McDonald seems to be suggesting in his comments, zoning was no longer the answer because our local county and city governments did not have the authority to do anything to control these runaway and abusive rentals, so zoning rules were not the answer.

      Fortunately, our local county officials and their staff really went to bat for the residents of Flagler County on this issue to get legislation proposed and passed in the House and the Senate to give back control of these rental businesses to local government. Commissioner Frank Meeker was instrumental in pushing to get this legislation introduced and ultimately passed in the House and Senate. He also made numerous trips to Tallahassee to speak on behalf of and push for its passage, and was often accompanied by Commissioners Charlie Ericksen and Nate McLaughlin and County Attorney Al Hadeed in these efforts.

      It is impossible to overstate the assistance of Senator John Thrasher and Representative Travis Hutson because, without them, there would have been no legislation introduced to solve this problem. They not only proposed relief legislation, but spoke eloquently on its behalf and pushed hard for its passage in their respective legislative bodies.

      This is a great example of our Government being responsive to the needs of the people they represent. We are very grateful for all of their efforts.

      Now, we are counting on Governor Scott to sign the legislation and put this lack of control over transient rentals nightmare behind us.

      Roger and Janice Cullinane

  5. In a resort community struggling to regain some semblance of economic growth, how is MORE REGULATION a “win” for Flagler?

  6. tulip says:

    If I paid a fortune to purchase a home in one of these luxury RESIDENTIAL neighborhoods, I would not want the surrounding homes to turned into vacation/party homes either. Not only that, when the idea caught on to turn these private homes into a “commercial business” & advertising on the internet, there were some homes built just for that purpose–to make lots of money and escape business taxes and rules

    Just think about your own neighborhood—would we want our streets clogged with cars, loud music, disruptive people coming and going at all hours of the day and night, overload on the sewer system etc. and the owners of the “vacation” homes making mega bucks and having to follow no rules? I think not.

    I am glad the counties now have the ability back to make their own laws regarding this issue. As far as the people that bought homes and then “went under”, do what less wealthy people have to do, sell at a loss and start over.

  7. Carol Mikola says:

    Congratulations to our County Attorney, Mr. Hadeed, and to our County Commissioners, Nate McLaughlin, Charlie Erickson and especially to Frank Meeker who spent countless hours in Tallahassee working this issue for our community.

  8. samantha Claire says:

    An excellent accomplishment for Florida’s communities, led statewide by our own Flagler County officials. Frank Meeker, County Commissioner District 2, was tireless in his professional leadership approach to making sure this legislation passed. From a slim hope, all the way through some discouraging months of tedious legislative effort to success, Frank kept at it. Frank’s opponent has published another diatribe about zoning, having zero to do with the legislation and its wide ranging statewide community benefits. Another “No thanks again Dennis”. Go Frank! Samantha Claire

  9. Charles Prellwitz says:

    I was in the process of preparing a thank you for the excellent work Frank Meeker Al Hadeed, Charlie Ericksen, and Nate McLaughlin did on behalf of the residents of Flagler County regarding SB 356. Of course I was also going to thank Rep Hutson and Senator Thrasher for their efforts in introducing the bill(s) and shepherding them through the approval process. It was a truly a combined effort to correct an issue that dramatically effected the residents of Palm Coast ,Flagler County, and many other counties within the State of Florida. These individuals led the way with new legislation for the State of Fl. and we should be very proud to have them represent our community.

    As I was submitting my thanks to Flagler Live I noticed a posting from a Mr. MacDonald. His comments seemed to me to be quite inaccurate. This bill did not eliminate zoning, it did not create rentals ( they were already here) ,rather the bill now allows our county to use existing zoning that could not be enforced due to the previous legislation. It is an enhancement not an elimination.

    Prior to the actions of the aforementioned people the rental homes were exempt from any legislative (county) controls and abuses occurred. Furthermore the county can now collect the proper bed tax as noted by another commentator. The county is now able to treat these rentals as a commercial business and have requirements one would use for such business entities included licensing,occupancy, inspection and safety standards which would protect all involved.

    To suggest this would morf into a Casino at Princess Place is a very strange viewpoint and I believe most readers of Flagler Live will recognize it for what it is Nonsense.

    Congratulations and thanks to our officials for representing the interests of our county.

    Charles Prellwitz

    • Bob Hamby says:

      Charles Prellwitz says: “,,, a posting from a Mr. MacDonald. His comments seemed to me to be quite inaccurate. This bill did not eliminate zoning, it did not create rentals ( they were already here) ,rather the bill now allows our county to use existing zoning that could not be enforced due to the previous legislation. It is an enhancement not an elimination.”

      Mr. Prellwitz you must not be familiar with the history of this mess. Senator Thrasher created it with legislation prohibiting local governments from restricting in any way short term rentals even in neighborhoods zoned residential. So yes it is a zoning issue! The “fix” in the just passed legislation (of which incumbent Flagler County Commissioners are bragging about their roles) does nothing to restore the BOCC ability to enforce Residential zoning for the protection of the other residential property owners. This is a non-fix to something that was not broken until politicians created the problem in a previous session of the FL legislature.

      Elected politicians please don’t keep providing this kind of help!

  10. Bob Hamby says:

    “…a local government may not prohibit short-term rentals outright. It may not regulate the duration of a rental by setting minimums or eliminating weekend-only bookings. And it may not dictate the number of rentals a property may book in any given year, whether six or 12 or more over the course of that year.”

    Things in the County and State continue to operate for the benefit of those with the GREEN.

    “The final version of the bill was somewhat watered down from the version Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, originally filed in the Senate. The House version, filed by Travis Hutson, R-St. Augustine, included some amendments that Hutson himself pushed, weakening the bill in favor of the vacation-rental industry, but also likely ensuring its broader support and final passage.”

    Exactly what relief did the the residents of Hammock Beach (who wanted help) get from our Commissioners and Legislators? Seems that the mini-hotels will still be operating in their neighborhoods zoned Residential. I guess the County Commissioners can regulate such things as the the number of towels to be provided to the renters.

  11. Steve Wolfe says:

    Love to see some video of the animal house operations post-legislation. Proof is in the pudding, not in the glowing remarks of sycophants who love the father of the red light cameras, Frank Meeker. This would be a good time for FlaglerLive to post voting records of our tax and spend rinos to set the table for all the voters. Let real people decide for themselves if the incumbents deserve praise for increasing taxes by super majority so the voters are denied the opportunity to keep their money, or for using YOUR MONEY to pay $1.23 million for the old hospital for future digs for the sherrif which is a complete fiasco that really was a cover for relieving the debt of a pal of theirs. See through the fluff of their tiny cicle of loyal supporters. We need to sweep out these hacks.

  12. Ron Boyce says:

    Thank you Senator Thrasher and Representative Hutson for introducing your bills this session. Senate Bill 356 will correct a mistake that occurred in 2011. Our local governments hands where tied. If it was not for our local officials Commissioners Frank Meeker, Charles Erickson, Nate McLaughlin and Attorney Al Hadeed and their staff this bill would have not made it to the governors desk. These dedicated officials traveled to Tallahassee supporting their constituents. Thank you all for defending our rights and for protecting the citizens of this state.

    The comments made by Dennis McDonald are inaccurate. Vacation rentals will now be treated just like any other business. Do yourself a favor an get educated on the issues before you make a comment.

  13. Dennis McDonald says:

    Mr Prellwitz.

    Single Family Residential is the zoning classification for the homes that are in contention. It is also the use and occupancy designation for these homes. Until the 2011 law was passed the County always had the ability to take required action on any owner of a property that violated the “single family use and occupancy”. When this law was passed by adding it to the tail end of a Public Lodging and Public Food Service statute [this in it self should be a flag !] in 2011 it “cloaked” the violating properties from County Zoning intervention.
    Your statement ” This bill did not eliminate zoning, it did not create rentals ( they were already here) ,rather the bill now allows our county to use existing zoning that could not be enforced due to the previous legislation. It is an enhancement not an elimination”…. is a misnomer ! The 2011 law allowed multi family use and occupancy in single family zones, so yes it did eliminate single family zoning.

    The problem at hand is NOT rentals, it is the way the rentals are being used contrary to the single family designation, they are being used as MULTI family. HB 307 allows vacation rentals and they have been and will continue to be multi family in their use. You have gained nothing, Motel 6 can still be our neighbor as stated in the Public Food Service and Public Lodging Law !

    Dennis McDonald

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