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Flagler May Lose Vacation Rental Regulations Just 2 Years After Regaining Authority

| March 13, 2017

short-term vacation rentals

Flagler County regulates mini-hotels posing as houses in residential neighborhoods in the Hammock. Those regulations are now in jeopardy as the state may again attempt to scrap them. (Rodrigo Soldon)

It was barely two years ago that Flagler County government succeeded in returning the authority to regulate short-term vacation rentals to county government. It took the county three years of battling. The state a few years earlier had taken away that authority—“pre-empted” it is the technical term—to the dismay of many residents in the Hammock who felt overrun by vacation-rental tenants.

Now, the state may take away that authority yet again. A pair of identical one-page bills (Senate Bill 188 and House Bill 425) are making their way through the Legislature to essentially scrap much of what the Legislature had approved in 2014. The bills would forbid any local government from “restrict[ing] the use of vacation rentals,” or regulate them “based solely on their classification, use or occupancy.”

County commissioners are mobilizing to fight again, as are Hammock residents, as are supporters of vacation rentals, among them many local property owners who benefit from using their houses to those ends.

But this time the scene for proponents of local regulations (that is, opponents of state interference) is very different. They’re without two key allies, both of whom had worked hard to push through the 2014 legislation favoring Flagler County.

One was Frank Meeker, the late county commissioner who died last July. Fighting to return regulatory authority of short-term rentals to the county was one of Meeker’s signal achievements. The other was John Thrasher, who in 2014 was the powerful senator who represented Flagler, and without whom the legislation would likely not have passed. Thrasher is no longer in the Senate. He’s president of Florida State University. He’s been replaced by Travis Hutson, the St. Johns Republican.

Hutson was a House member when the vacation-rental legislation passed. But Hutson, a friend of the vacation-rental industry weakened the Senate bill as it was reconciled with the House’s. And now, Hutson, as a senator, may want to weaken that regulatory authority again. Hutson was once roommate to Rep. Mike La Rosa, the St. Cloud Republican. La Rosa, who chairs the House’s Tourism and Gaming Control subcommittee, is sponsoring the House legislation that would thwart local authority of short-term rentals.

Flagler County Commissioner Greg Hansen discussed the bills with Hutson and “told him in no uncertain terms,” Hansen said, “that we want this killed. And he said no, that he would try to reach a compromise.  And I think that’s dangerous.”

The county commission was surprised to find ityself in that position again, and to have to let its legislative delegation—Hutson in the Senate, Paul Renner in the House—that it was opposed to the proposed legislation. “We thought it was an understood thing since we fought three or four years ago and were the champions throughout the state,” County Administrator Craig Coffey said, “that we wouldn’t have to come up and actually tell them our position. They should instinctively know.”

Apparently they didn’t, or conveyed to the county that they didn’t. The county commission approved a resolution reminding them where Flagler stands, to—in Coffey’s words–“put an exclamation point on it and to really claim our position again and state it in black and white to them, with no uncertain terms: this is our position.”

Click On:

The resolution calls local regulation “essential for the protection of single family and duplex neighborhoods,” where Flagler’s regulation prevails, and states that “there has been no demonstration that Flagler County should be deprived of its constitutional home rule powers, or specifically its land use development powers, or its general powers to protect the health, safety and welfare of its citizens.”

A pitched battle between two factions of property owners in the Hammock started five years ago. There were those who loved vacation-rental properties and those who hated them. There were those who turned their big mansions into mini-hotels as a way to stave off having to sell the mansions at a loss, after building them during the housing bubble of the 2000s. And there were those who lived next-door, who thought they’d bought their house in a residential neighborhood, only to be faced with noisy revelers.

The Legislature had created the issue when it passed a law forbidding local governments from regulating short-term rentals. The law was intended to help property owners who were on the verge of losing their houses, though in fairness, numerous property owners also built their homes with vacation rentals in mind. It is a business-“a cash cow,” as Commissioner Ericksen put it, and one that does contribute handsomely to Flagler’s tourism surtax.

Five years ago those who didn’t like vacation rentals complained to the county commission, seeking relief. The county commission turned to its representatives in Tallahassee—Thrasher and Hutson—and won relief. The new regulations went in effect in 2015, and subsequently, mostly, survived a court challenge.

Those are the regulations that are now in danger of getting scrapped.

“What these bills would do would be to completely tie our hands,” County Attorney Al Hadeed said, even though Flagler’s current “regulatory touch is very moderate. We are addressing in single-family neighborhoods and duplex-family neighborhoods. It’s not a greater swath than that, and we concentrate it in an area where it would likely have the most deleterious impact on single-family neighborhoods.” If the state has its way, Flagler would end up with “unrestrained short-term vacation rentals that could produce nuisance-type problems in a community, and we would have no effective, and no practical means, or an ability to address those problems,” Hadeed said.

Legislative Analysis: The Vacation-Rental Bills (2017)

22 Responses for “Flagler May Lose Vacation Rental Regulations Just 2 Years After Regaining Authority”

  1. Facts says:

    It really amazes me how Senator Hutson and Representative Renner could lie to their constituents. These man promise to protect 2014 Senate bill 354. They insisted that they would vote against any bills that would take away home rule from our local officials.

    They are essentially putting big business ahead of the people ther represent. These bills should be thrown in the trash along with 2017 House bill 17 that has be co sponsor by Representative Renner.

    Just to clarify the 2011 Senate Bill 883 was never about helping people pay their mortgages. This was about the vacation management industry. This bill was written by their lobbyist. Not only where these dwellings allowed to operated unregulated, they where not required to be sprinklered, they also change the name of these dwellings from resort dwellings to vacation rentals and appointed a vacation management person to the state board.

    When 2014 Senate bill 354 was adopted that vacation management industry supported it. They where thrilled that House Representative Hutson failed Senator Thrasher in his testimony on the house floor that ended up watering down Senator Thrashers bill. Hearing the Senators testifying on the original bill they could not believe they removed home rule in 2011. I am now asking our Senators to vote no on these three new bills that remove home rule.

    So, what is a vacation rental?

    It is not a single family dwelling. It is not a rental or lease. It is a transient public lodging establishment business that Uses a license for use just like a hotel, motel or bed and breakfast. But this dwelling is exempt from local zoning. It is also exempt from life safety inspection, fire protection equipment ( sprinklers), ADA requirements, update of their certificate of occupancy from permanent occupancy to transient and bed taxes without local ordinances in place.

    This is just a power play by the vacation industry and AIRBNB. There lobbyist are in Tallahassee with bags of cash. There is not one Senator or Representative that would live next door to this type of business. Would you?

    If these bills pass we the people must send a clear message and vote these individuals out of office starting with Representative Renner first.

  2. Dave says:

    Scrap them, it’s the owner of the properties business what they do with their home and property, noise curfews and vehicle limits are fine to enforce but to say No, to vacation rentals all together is silly

  3. Duncan says:

    It’s a shame that State Senate and House have nothing better to do that to revisit an issue that was resolved fairly.

    As a vacation rental owner I think the short-term regulations fell short on protecting residents that live here full time. I don’t know of anyone renting out there vacation rentals adhering to the occupancy limits around me; it’s as if nothing changed in my area.

    Locals should not be expected to lower their quality of life because of vacation rental owners. Yes, property owner rights are important – right up to the point that my neighbors feel putout, then their right to live and enjoy come first. I would argue that some of the more ridiculous permitting requirements by the county is more of a violation to property owners rights, for example, I can’t build a dock on property I own In Flagler county on the ICW unless I build a house first – that’s an infringement of property owner rights.

  4. Richard Smith says:

    Greed and political corruption at its finest! Screw the homeowner who purchased their residential property only to find out that their neighbor’s are running a commercial rental property right next door. Obviously these politicians have been bought and paid for. All I can say is “Drain the Cesspool” of these lowlifes and take our government back. These people work for us not a bunch of wealthy crackpots filling their pockets with vacation rental cash.

  5. Dee K Griggs says:

    This is stating eliminating short term vacation rentals from residential neighborhood single homes and duplexes.
    I would like to make a couple points. One how are you collecting tourism tax from as they say in the hospitality world. “Heads in the Bed ” or occupied rooms. 2. I previously paid a reasonably high condo rent on a yearly lease, when condos occupied by year round residents suddenly have noisy vacationers renting there for a week or two to party with over the limit occupancy for that building there is no hotel management, no noise control. Full time residents owners or those leasing are put at a disadvantage and property values decrease. That is why the words hotels, motels, time shares were created. They are run like a business that checks people in and out. Have people on a board of tourism, there Is regulation and there is state tax along with tourism tax to promote tourism in your county and state. 3. Other people occupying a dwelling in the Same building know people are coming there on vacation and do not have the same expectations of serenity as those that maintain full time residency or even Snowbird residency.

  6. Sw says:

    Nothing better to do than fight over this. Laughable smh

  7. Jan says:

    Where are these bills removing home rule and allowing illegal hotels in neighborhoods coming from? Why are our so-called representatives allowing situations that endanger lives? Mom and pop operations? Hardly! This is big business by investors at the expense of those of us who live here, and the rental industry is controlling our so-called representatives, and driving out the residents.

    Two direct quotes and their sources:

    “FL VRMA and its legislative team at Lewis, Longman and Walker worked closely with Senator Steube and Representative La Rosa to craft a bill that would return to 2011 and more wholly preempt local government’s ability to regulate vacation rentals.”


    Another quote: “After months of lobbying, the Florida Vacation Rental Managers Association was able to convince the Florida Legislature to pass a bill exempting them from rules requiring anyone who converts a single family home into a vacation home available for short term renting from fire rules that say the home needs a sprinkler system. It can cost up to $29,000 to install a sprinkler system in a single house.”


    Pretty dangerous for a bunch of people in an unfamiliar house with fixed windows and hurricane glass designed to stop projectiles, wouldn’t you say? Difficult for the fire department to get into the house. And many houses are close to one another, endangering neighboring properties.

    (As an aside, we had one short-term renter die in a swimming pool in a rental house in our community. Are short-term rentals required to be ADA compliant? Nope. Another victory for the short-term rental industry.)

    I’ve lived in the county for ten years, and our community has been victimized and sued by the short-term rental industry when we tried to have some oversight. One investor owned 18 properties in our community – and lives in Missouri. Another owned – fully or partly – 10 properties and manages 193 properties in the county – he does not live in the county, nor do the owners of the vast majority of these 193 short-term rentals. (Sources: Flagler Property Appraiser site, investor’s website, and other public documents.)

    Finally, you may have seen the report about Airbnb – where is their growth coming from? The short-term rental industry. A study found that most of Airbnb’s revenue in the U.S. last year came from whole-house rentals, NOT from a spare room being rented out by an at-home owner.


    Our legislature is helping these investors drive out the people who live, volunteer, patronize the community, and contribute in so many other ways.

    Yes, the fox is guarding the hen house. Please let Renner and Hutson know that you want control at the local level. These illegal hotels ruining our communities must be stopped.

  8. Krista says:

    I am a fan of Vacation Homes, both as a consumer and because it’s good for the local economies, especially some of the poorer beach communities that survive based on tourism. Someone references big business and I whole-heartedly disagree…big business is the massive hotels you see spreading up the Florida coastline. Vacation Rentals are a way to stop that but to still keep tourism dollars in the state. Vacation rentals provide the ability to offset mortgage costs so that homes can be better maintained and keep up with salt deterioration, hurricanes, etc. There are not enough jobs in Florida to support the number of homes, so we depend on vacation homeowners to keep our residential values up and to help fuel our economy. By limited Vacation Rentals, many would lose their homes or not maintain them which would have an overall negative impact on the Florida economy. Most renters of vacations homes are families and most are respectful of their behavior. There are plenty of long term renters around me that are way less respectful about their behavior. It seems like a property rights violation to say that some homes in Florida can be vacation rentals and others cannot. Why is a 6 month renter okay but not a one month snowbird? I travel the state constantly and always stay at vacation homes even when by myself because I am not comfortable at hotels as a single female traveler. I am respectful and quiet, and I get to bring my dogs with me a lot of the time which is a huge benefit as it would be extremely difficult to afford boarding them all of the time. When my friends and I travel, we are respectful and quiet and don’t want to be cramped in a few hotel rooms. We like cooking together and playing cards and having a bed in a private room. There are ways to protect that rentals don’t become hotels, enforce local noise ordinances, make home owners pay fines if their guests are out of control, etc. Would be a terrible shame to have locals that don’t embrace our beautiful tourist state stop our economy from growing.

  9. Wishful Thinking says:

    Hang on a second…. For years the FAR/BAR (Florida Realtors and Florida Bar) Residential contracts all have a clause that must be completed regarding the type of ‘residency’ – either primary or secondary.
    I have never seen, as a Realtor for over 35 years a clause in a Residential Sale and Purchase Contract that states otherwise. Secondly mortgage lenders usually charge a higher interest rate for ‘secondary residences’ contracts. I have never seen a Residential contract have a clause stating ‘ weekly daily or vacation rental as PRIMARY USE.n
    Thirdly a HomeOwners Association has the ability and the power to restrict rentals. Plantation Bay Board passed a six month minimum allowable rental for single family homes which has not been challenged in court. I do not understand how these vacation rentals for days or a week or two can continue to exist in communities where homeowner associations exist and mortgage lenders can accelerate a mortgage that was secured under false terms. These are facts that can be applied to stop this rental abuse and invasion of the right of others ‘ quiet peace and enjoyment of their residential primary residences

  10. palmcoaster says:

    This issue about having short term rentals inside gated communities should be resolved thru their HOA covenants and restrictions enforcement, as long as the deeded gated community has a clause on its bylaws that prohibits short term rentals. If an HOA does not have such a clause then the majority interest vote of the membership can request their bylaws to be revised, vote on it, add and state file the additional clause of non short term rentals allowed and rid of it by enforcement of its amended bylaws.

    What we see lately is the signs of the times of a never ending eroding middle class that is trying to not loose to foreclosure their homes investments or also trying to afford the expenses of such residential investment thru short term rentals. Also retirees on meager incomes may try to rent parts of their homes to be able to make ends meet. Can we really prohibit them from doing it if nit on gated communities? What is expected from them to go rob a bank to survive, like some desperado’s do?

    Lets all wake up and see the pathetic signs of the times of our middle and lower classes in America today for the sake of greed of the one’s at the top. And please do not call me a liberal, socialist or communist for my words. It is very simple….the sweet all times gone when we all had enough income to pay the bills and drive to the gas station and get all kinds of gifts and goodies (green stamps collection books to exchange for valuable goods) with a fill up but also then the wealthy were only “millionaires” not “billionaires” like today. Yes then we could afford to pay the doctor or medication covered under our job contract medical insurance…no more as the allowed greed of the wealthy done away with that by hiring part time no benefits. Also back then a doctors visit or meds were affordable 50 years ago. Then greed took over and no medical for millions could be afforded until ACA came along because how much money on a part time pay no benefits when a simple abdomen Xray image is charged at $2,900, never mind the doctors fees or meds! Don’t tell me that the free medical markets will resolve and replace ACA, the BS free market and across state lines competition only drove ours out to space before ACA. No more lies please.
    So better get used to short term rentals and Uber and Lyft because are here to stay as middle class Americans are trying to make ends meet any honest way they can.

  11. Jan says:

    Please don’t think that just because you live in a community with HOAs or CC&Rs you are protected. The short-term rental businesses and investors are coming after those kinds of communities next!

    Here’s the link:

    And here’s the most relevant part, copied and pasted:

    “…we expect to see a bill that would change the law to limit the ability of homeowners’ associations (HOAs) to adopt amendments that prohibit rentals, alter the duration of the rental term, or limit the number of time unit owners are entitled to rent their units. This is already the law for condominium associations, and there is support to extend it to HOAs. There were a number of bills with this language that were filed during last year’s legislative session, but they did not pass. We expect to see similar bills filed again this year. As you can probably imagine, the special interests behind such bills are companies like AirBnb, VRBO, and investors who want the unrestricted ability to rent homes in residential communities.

    In addition, there has been a bill filed, SB 188, that would prohibit local governments from adopting ordinances limiting the duration of vacation rentals. This bill would primarily impact community associations without minimum lease terms, as it will limit the ability of your local government to offer your association much help.”

    Please let your representatives know you are against these bills.

  12. Dave says:

    Having neighbors you knw and trust is a thing of past, I grew up in a neighborhood like that but it’s a rare thing now a days. You gotta change with times or get left in the dust

  13. Facts says:

    Some of you that posted feel it is ok to run a transient public lodging business next to a single family home. I have a question for you. Try running a bed and breakfast next to a single family home. Good luck. This transient public lodging establishment can only operate where local zoning permits it. This bed and breakfast is also required to be inspected twice a year for life safety. In addition in most cases are required to be sprinklered and require the owner of this single family home to change its certificate of occupancy.

    So why treat a vacacation rental differently. It is a business. It is a transient public lodging establishment. It is certainly a life hazard. No sprinklers, no inspections and no onsite management. This dwelling in most cases is overoccupied. The vacation management companies jam occupants inside for their bottom line.

    Our Senators and House representatives must vote in favor of home rule now.

  14. Denali says:

    There are a few issues here that I see. First is the idea that someone will forfeit their house if they are not allowed to rent it out for short term use. If that is true, hopefully these one-time neighbors will eventually get back on their feet but in the meantime, will rent to folks who will maintain the status quo of the area. Otherwise, the market has recovered, sell the house.

    A second issue is the investment bunch that sees these vacation rentals as a way to make a big return and have not a care in the world for the neighborhood. These are the root of the problem, they have no control over to whom they rent and frankly don’t care as long as the check clears and the place is not trashed. Neighbors be damned.

    The last group are the full timers who do not want transients in any way, shape or form next door to them. They cannot stand the idea that there are 8 – 10 ‘strangers’ in the house next door; it does not matter if they are regular folks or party animals, “they just don’t belong here”. Now these same neighbors are accepting of me having 8 – 10 house guests at a time even though Friday nights might get a bit noisy. Possibly a double standard here.

    I have seen this issue in countless areas across the country – the only sure way to curtail these rentals is through restrictive covenants. Local ordinances will always get squashed by state legislators who are on the take from special interest groups. Homeowners association rules will be the nest to fall victim to the soul-less legislators. Restrictive covenants are the only way to control what happens on a property, but even then someone has to be on the watch and ready to take violators to task.

  15. Denali says:

    Many have stated here that these rentals are ‘over-occupied’. Will someone please enlighten me as to what the Florida Building Code occupancy classification (use group) is for these structures and how to determine the occupant loading for the structures. If anything other than an R-3 (building law, not zoning) I would be curious as to how they were designed.

  16. Facts says:

    These dwellings where built as single family home. Under the Florida building code as it relates to occupancy it is R 3 which is an occupancy permenate in nature. If you take a look at occupancy R 1 is states the the occupancy is transient in nature.

    As for home owners associations. When senate bill 883 in 2011 was passed their where many property owners in either in foreclosure or bankruptcy. The investors scoop up these properties and homes. They built 10 bedroom homes with the intent to use them as public lodging establishment. The homes that they purchase where converted from four bedrooms to six to eight bedrooms without filing permits. These dwellings where being used exclusively as transient public lodging establishments.

    If your homeowners association did not have restrictive language in place your where in trouble. Because the investors just gain the majority vote in your association. The only recourse was your local government.

    Home rule has been around since 1968. It is part of the Florida constitution. Local governments need to be able to react to their constituents.

  17. Kevin says:

    Senator Travis Hutson will lose our vote any most of all our neighbors who live in the Hammock and enjoy it as residences not transient tourist hostels, let them find a commercially zoned motel/hotel. The insanity of destroying neighborhoods with flop houses cannot return.

  18. Duncan says:

    The one month snowbird renter is not the typical renter, they are a blessing. It’s the weekend and sometimes week long renters that are the problem renters.

  19. Bill says:

    OK just how many people that rent out THEIR home/condo as a vacation rental overbook it with occupants??
    Lets take a 3 bedroom place. Your most likely to rent it to a family. Two parents and their kids and maybe a grand parent. OK that may be some 6-8 ppl in most cases. some are making it sound as if the same place will have a dozen or more in it.

  20. Dave says:

    So happy this passed. Funny reading the comment that says old people that are snowbirds are..everyone else is a laughable and obviously bias

  21. Chris says:

    I am a condo owner.
    I bought it from a bank.
    I rent it as a vacation home and also as long term.
    I pay 10% bed tax, for yearly fire inspection and additional garbage pick-up. I already pay for garbage pick up thru my HOA fees.
    I maintain my property better, and spend more money to replace and upgrade the interior because it has to be a VACATION DESTINATION, for people to come and rent. I offer a quality product that I myself would enjoy.
    It’s the 5-20 year owner that doesn’t want the common areas improved, parking lot replaced etc that brings down the value of the property. Most HOAs are white, racist and try to use these same laws to discriminate, intimidate anyone that is not them; white included.

  22. Jan says:

    Those of you who rent short-time and never use your unit personally – would you agree it’s a good business investment?

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