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Setback For Flagler as Bill Scrapping Vacation-Rental Regulations Advances on 9-6 Vote

| March 14, 2017

Flagler County Attorney addressing the House Agriculture and Property Rights Subcommittee today in Tallahassee. (Florida Channel)

Flagler County Attorney addressing the House Agriculture and Property Rights Subcommittee today in Tallahassee.
(Florida Channel)

In a defeat for Flagler County government, a divided House Agriculture and Property Rights Subcommittee voted 9-6 today in favor of a proposal that would again scrap local government authority to regulate short-term rentals. Again, because just two years ago, after a campaign by Flagler government, counties and cities won that right back, which they had lost in 2011, when the state “pre-empted” that local authority.

Under the current proposal, in the sum-up of a legislative analysis, “a local government may not restrict the use of vacation rentals, prohibit vacation rentals, or regulate vacation rentals based solely on their classification, use, or occupancy. As a result, local governments will be precluded from creating regulations that would distinguish vacation rentals from other residential properties.”

Rep. Mike La Rosa, a St. Cloud Republican who had supported the 2014 law, is sponsoring the reversal. The 2014 law, he said, “was decent policy, and a good compromise, and was in good faith.”

But since the bill passed, he claims, “we’ve seen an obscene amount of ordinances with local government, which basically in my opinion is a property right taking.” That includes, he said, “crazy fines” that inhibit property owners from renting their houses. He cited an example of a $20,000 fine for a first violation, up to fines of $100,000, allowing the local government to put a lien the property.

La Rosa is portraying the issue as a matter of property rights. But judging from the business interests in play, the issue is closer to a matter of property owners who live in neighborhoods run over by company-owned or company-managed short-term rentals. That industry is bankrolling the push to revert to pre-2014 conditions.  The bill and its Senate companion still have several hurdles before reaching the floors of the respective chambers for full votes. 

The vote followed 75 minutes of discussions and pleas, for and against the proposal, including several challenges to the bill from committee members and opposition from Flagler County Attorney Al Hadeed. The 2011 law “was to help homeowners who were in the clutches of the recession, and allowing them to rent their homes in order to avert foreclosure,” Hadeed said. “But the reality is that it opened up an industry, it opened up real estate syndicates that went in and bought and essentially constructed mini-hotels in the middle of single-family neighborhoods. Now, of course when those began to appear, our constituents complained to us—please, do something about this.”

Hadeed then unloaded the story of short-term renters at night “filming a pornographic movie” with bright lights next to home-owners’ properties, of buses unloading inebriated revelers, “frat-house style.” The porno-film story was oddly not heard until now, though Hammock homeowners for three years before the 2014 law shared numerous stories and complaints with local officials. Hadeed stressed, however, that “vacation rentals are an important part of our tourism industry, but people took advantage” before the new law had gone into effect.

Flagler government doesn’t want to return to those conditions. If Hadeed had sensationalized his presentation with extreme examples, so had La Rosa.

“What I’m saying is treat vacation rentals the same as all other properties.”

La Rosa did not initially cite the actual governments from whose ordinances he was quoting, when referring to exorbitant fines. He did not specify whether the fines he cited were examples of actual levies from actual violations or merely potential fines listed in such ordinances: the difference can be significant as most governments place some distance between notices of violations (with warnings) and actual fines levied over those violations. He did not mention that code enforcement fines are routine in cities beyond vacation rentals, for such things as un-mowed grass and other code violations, as residents of Palm Coast—to name one city—well know: those fines can and do on occasion rise into the thousands.

“What I’m saying here is not that these are all horrible things. What I’m saying is treat vacation rentals the same as all other properties,” La Rosa said, whatever the nuisance detected.

A committee member pressed him to be more specific and cite actual cities’ fines. “It wasn’t my intention to call out cities by name,” La Rosa said, but agreed, citing Miami Beach, “$20,000 for their first violation,” rising to $40,000 then $60,000 if the violation is repeated, up to $100,000 within 18 months.

But again, La Rosa was providing a misleading context for the fines. When he described the sort of violations neighborhoods are familiar with, he spoke of noise, garbage, excessive cars—the sort of violations that worry neighbors of vacation rentals in Flagler County.

But the fines he was citing from Miami Beach had nothing to do with any of that. He never said what they did have to do with: illegal advertising, and illegally hosting short-term renters in single-family homes, apartments or townhouses. In fact, Miami Beach tallied every single one of violations that resulted in fines between March and August 2016. There were 106 such fines levied. But every one of them was for false advertising or for illegal renting in properties not sized for short-term rentals, and overwhelmingly, the rentals were conducted by agencies. All but a handful were $20,000 fines. There were no $100,000 fines. (See the full list of fines here, and Miami Beach’s ordinance here or here.)

Click On:

His next example was, he said, the “City of Marco Island, $500 per day. $500 civil citation.”

Not quite: Marco Island’s ordinance states that what fines are permissible are for “up to $500.00 per day,” with the city manager making determinations that are appealable to the city commission. (A representative from Holmes Beach in Manatee County, who opposes the La Rosa proposal, told the committee that of Holmes Beach’s ordinance is less to police and fine property owners than to work with them to be in compliance. “That’s what zoning is all about, it’s about compatibility of uses,” she said. A quarter of the homes there are in the registered short-term rental program.)

La Rosa did not provide additional examples. He was challenged on his proposal’s reversion to the 2011 law, keeping localities from regulating their neighborhoods according to their needs. But with each challenge, La Rosa said he was not opposed to local regulations—as long as they were applied “across the board,” to all properties, without singling out short-term renters. But that, in essence, would equate to no regulation, since no local government could realistically institute a system that would apply a regulatory sweep across all properties just to detect short-term renters.

There’s no question that the mosaic of short-term rental ordinances have led to a backlash from renters, with 82 claims under a property-rights law filed in the city of Ana Maria lone, amounting tp$30 million in claims. But the majority of challenges have been led by large companies that either own or manage properties exclusively for short-term rentals—which don’t have to abide by the same regulations as hotels and motels, one opponent of the bill said. La Rosa’s bill, he said, might eliminate distinctions between vacation homes and other homes, but only to create a double standard between homes used as hotels and actual hotels.

Eric Pool, speaking for the Florida Association of Counties—which opposes the proposal—said the 2014 law enables counties and cities to provide “nominal oversight” of the industry to balance out the unregulated landscape short-term renters had enjoyed since 2011. “Now we’re not asking to go back to pre-2011, we’re simply asking that the state of the law stay as it is. We don’t think that it needs to be cranked back. If there is an issue about $20,000 fines, that’s egregious. Let’s address that problem. But to go back to pre-2011, we don’t think it’s necessary.”

Jennifer Green, who represents HomeAway Vacation Rentals, an advertising platform that focuses on short-term rentals, framed the issue in terms of tourism exclusively: “The fact of the matter is,” she said, “people want to come to Florida.” So the question is, she told the committee, “do you want to do anything to stifle tourism in Florida? The secondary issue is, do you want to pick a winner and a loser when it comes to property rights?”

Tourism has not been hurt by the 2014 regulations on short-term rentals, neither in Florida nor in Flagler County: Gov. Rick Scott has been boasting of record-breaking tourism in the state year after year. Flagler County’s tourism tax revenue was up 9 percent the first year after the 2014 law went into effect, and 2.8 percent last year.

Heather Beaven, who owns a house in Flagler Beach and another on London Drive in Palm Coast, said the only way she can keep the latter—which is valued a shade more than half the $250,000 she paid for it in 2006—“is through vacation rentals and-or long-term rentals,” she said. “The vast majority of the people that I’ve had in that home have been there for three months or longer, and they’re coming either to look at the area so they can purchase a home or they’re coming to wait until their home is built.” She said she has no familiarity with “the kind of anecdotes” told about vacation renters, “so to close down any more of Flagler County for short-term rentals in a county that survives off tourism makes no economic sense whatsoever.”

It’s not clear what Beaven had in mind when she spoke of closing down “more” of Flagler County to short-term rentals: there’s no such plan. The issue is limited to regulatory authority


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15 Responses for “Setback For Flagler as Bill Scrapping Vacation-Rental Regulations Advances on 9-6 Vote”

  1. Jan says:

    From this excellent summary: “What I’m saying here is not that these are all horrible things. What I’m saying is treat vacation rentals the same as all other properties,” La Rosa said, whatever the nuisance detected.”

    Let’s change one word in the above sentence – change “properties” to “businesses.” Everyone should be happy. Whole-home short-term rentals by investors are a business, treat them as a business, control them as a business, tax them as a business, let them thrive where businesses are located – not in residential communities.

  2. -Eric C. says:

    Flagler (among others) let fear and a few exceptions dictate regulation. Its no suprise this is happening. The answers are simple. Allow homeowners to do as they see fit with thier property within local ordinances. If they want to rent it, let them file the paperwork and do so. If a property becomes a nuisance, then enforce accordingly. Repeat violators will loose their lisence and face the consequences financial or other. Many counties took it too far which was unfair to property owners rights concerning use for something they own. Face it, they are doing it anyways and keeping it quiet. Might as well get some taxes and license fees for it. Legislation should not replace enforcement. You should never make new laws if enforcing the currect ones will solve and prevent the problem you have on the table.

  3. mark101 says:

    @Eric, are you a neighbor of a home that is next door to your home that is being rented week in and week out for vacation, I guess NOT. Nothing like having a swinging door of strangers living next to you week in and week out. Its very unsettling. There is NO enforcement by Flagler County. Flagler County is turning into a Vacation home rental trash dump with the vacation home owner not giving a crap out their neighbors. ITs bike week and guess what, we have bikers next door, cranking up their bikes and letting them idle for 10-15 minutes with the occasional throttle burp , loud and obnoxious. In the summer kids in a area where no resident on my street has kids, with kids riding their skateboards up and down your driveway as their parents just laugh if you say something to these kids. The vacation home owner could careless when a complaint is made. Vacation homes being ruled on by lawmakers that don’t have vacation homes next to them is just ludicrous.

  4. Facts says:

    Representative LaRosa has no case at all. He is working for and paid by the vacation industry lobbyist including AIRBNB, HOMEAWAY and VRBO to name a few.

    He raised points about the Miami ordinance. This ordinance was adopted prior to 2011. Even if they did turn back the clock it would not effect that municipality.

    So why should a single family home be regulated? Well,it now has been converted to a public lodging establishment business. When you go into operations like this there are different regulations that you must abide by that single family dwellings do not.

    Let’s take a look at Florida fire prevention code 69a-43. These are additional life safety codes that vacation rentals must comply with. They would put in place to protect the occupants using this dwelling along with the first responders. But one problem without local ordinances they where not inspected for compliance. That’s right. The owner only had to file application for a license from the state. But the state never inspected these dwellings prior to issuing the license. Huge life safety issue.

    Now let’s take a look at an owner of a single family home that wants to run a bed and breakfast. This dwelling is a transient public lodging establishment just like a vacation rental. They are businesses! The B&B is required to be inspected by the state for life safety semi annually, it is also required to be sprinklered in most cases, it C of O must reflect it’s current operation since it is not a permanent occupancy, ADA requirements may be applied and it is restricted by local zoning.

    Why is this dwelling treated differently the a single family home. Because it is a transient public lodging business. All busnieeses should be regulated. Our single family neighborhoods should be protected by those who live here. Our counties and cities need to be able to deal with the complaints they receive from their residents.

    So Representative LaRosa would like to apply all enforcement across the board. Maybe the state should inspect all single family home for life safety. I am sure there are dwellings in our county that have converted storage roooms and garages into bedrooms without filing permits. We had that issue. 11 Ocean Oaks was issued a C of O for four bedrooms. When the investor purchase it on a short sell it was converted to an eight bedroom rental with occupancies exceeding 20. That’s right this home was being operated just like a hotel. The two residents living next to it had to move out of the community because our local officials could not deal with the problem.

    The 2014 senate bill 354 has been working properly. It has not prevented vacation rentals from operating. The counties and cities that have adopted ordinates since then did so by meeting with all stake holders prior to voting. This was well thought out process. Even with the new ordinances in place tourism has grown.

    The bottom line here is that the vacation industry does not want regulations. But what transient public lodging business does not have regulations. All hotels, motels and bed and breakfast must comply why are vacation rentals the exception.

  5. Youngone says:

    Mr. Mark101,
    Sounds like your in a gated community, what you need to so is contact your HOA since you pay hoa fee’s, and do have covenants and restrictions that your board or the boards attorney should enforce instead of relying on the county to do something, since the county can not enforce those restrictions.

  6. Jan says:

    Okay, here’s the terrible thing – there is now an attempt by the rental industry to prevent HOAs from passing and upholding their own rules when it comes to controlling short-term rentals.

    And, by the way – no one is against rentals – we’ve all rented! Communities want to control some things things, though – such as number of occupants! Need amendments to do that if the investor-owned rental has been abused, which we have had occur in our community – such as a picture showing two dining room tables that seat 24 plus; the single-family house was advertised to sleep 24!

    Here’s the new bill (go to end to see what it’s saying):

  7. Ron says:

    Hey Mark,

    This is happening outside gated communities.

  8. tulip says:

    It think it is extremely unfair for the county to have allowed the building of very large homes to be used as vacation rentals. Before all that occurred, people bought homes there believing it would be a neighborhood and residential scenario, and a peaceful place to live. Had they known it would have turned into party city, I doubt they would have bought property there. I would presume that now their home have lost value and their choices are to “live with the conditions” or sell their homes at a much reduced price.

    I bet you people who think that building houses purposely in a residential area for turning into vacation rentals would not like it, if you lived in one of those neighborhoods.

    Hutson walked away from voting on the issue–that tells a story. Rich boy doesn’t want to be involved. He should get out of politics if he can’t vote or stand up for something.

  9. Ray says:

    The Flagler Live headline of “Setback for Flagler” tries to imply that less government regulation is bad for the people of Flagler. What an arrogant liberal bias this so called news organization has. Flagler Live should be required to register as a political organization.

    The real news here is that there are many more of us out there who are on to your biases and we don’t fall for this attempt to influence our views, no matter how hard and how long you try.

    • FlaglerLive says:

      Ray, no need for Armageddon: “Flagler” is used here as it is routinely used in headlines referring to government stories, as Flagler County Government, just as, to give examples from the eminently right-wing Wall Street Journal, you get “U.S. and India Bolster Ties,” or “U.S. Drafts Sweeping Plan To Fight Crisis…” when in both cases it’s pretty clear the headline refers to the federal government rather than to you and every one of your 350 million compatriots either bolstering ties with India or drafting any kind of plan. In every case, the shorthand to the jurisdiction’s name alone (we also use “Palm Coast” rather than Palm Coast City Council,” “Flagler Beach” rather than “Flagler Beach City Commission,” and so on) avoids a clunkier headline than necessary, though god knows we are brilliant at clunky headlines as it is. In this context, yes, the committee’s decision was absolutely a setback for county government, though obviously not for the industry or its supporters, including the local voice cited in the article. As for the real news, you’re welcome to hunt it as you wish: we’re just glad the notion of “real news” still elicit some glimmer of recognition on your part, though if your views are so susceptible as to be influenced by a dozen words in a headline, this so-called news organization doesn’t know what to tell you.

  10. Wishful Thinking says:

    Thank goodness we live in an HOA community with 6 moth minimum rental and with the ability to take the rental fee from the renter if the owner is behind in maintenance..
    Best resolution however is in the original Sale and Purchase Contact. No one is insane enough to write ‘short term vacation use’ instead of primary or seondary r e s i d e n c e. The easiest way to stop this abuse is for all mortgage lenders to ‘call’ any mortgage due upon demand for fraud. Since all mortgages are public record everyone whose neighbor is illegally renting his/her/their ‘primary or secondary residence’ should report them to the lender/bank holding or who originated the ‘residential mortgage’. Transient rentals devalue the entire surrounding community and I am very very very disappointed in Travis Hutson for not supporting keeping government restrictions in place. But we can skin the cat by trying to get all phony mortgages ‘called’ or accelerated at minimum. My heart goes out to those whose quality life is being unfairly negatively affected.

  11. Jan says:

    Beware, Wishful Thinking! New bills are now being proposed to weaken HOAs! Hope you will be safe.

    Here is one: SB 1186:

    The rental industry is coming for the HOAs – they have deep pockets and LOTS of sway with politicians. In fact, the rental industry crafted a bill for the politicians! Here is a quote from the Florida Vacation Rental Managers Association website: “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.”

    We must all let Renner and Hutson know we don’t want the short-term rental industry controlling them. They voted against home rule for Flagler County (SB 188) so that the rental industry can roll back controls on (very reasonable) short-term rentals that were passed by Flagler County. Now they are going after the HOAs.

  12. Mark101 says:

    I live in the gated Hammock and it appears the Hammock gods to be, don’t really care about vacation rentals or the impact or noise or rotary door activity that goes on. And yep it goes on outside of a gated community. But you would think a gated community would be a little more caring since we pay those crazy HOA fees, but complaints just die on the vine as they say.

  13. Wishful Thinking says:

    Thank you Jan for alerting me to the proposed insane Senate Bill 1186 which proposes that HOAs have no regulation over residential rentals in their respective communities for anyone who purchases a ‘residence’ after July this year ( however everyone else who purchased before July will be held to any HOA rental restrictions.
    The bill is now awaiting ‘Regulated Industries’ committee meeting – Our area Senator Travis Hutson is the Chair of this committee… Good idea for everyone to contact his Tallahassee office 850-487-5007 – How a bill like this could get past the nearest trash can is beyond e. The sponsor is Senator Bracy. The legislature must be going mad – or bought big time by short tern rental heavy investors and contributors – nothing about any of these outrageous undemocratic bills disregarding private property rights for primary residences seems legal to begin with,

  14. Anonymous says:

    Flaglers government is too big for its britches. It needs to focus on what affects the majority of citizens and less on being control freaks. For example, there was no calling for the five commissioners to take action against the family who owned the dog that bit a kid for barging in ones home after being told he was not welcome. Now, they want to control peoples homes that they pay for. This is a free country, and government is out of bounds here. Next thing you know they will tell us the gender allowance for home owners or how many children they can have. This county attorney is a train wreck!

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