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Renner Seizes Reins for Flagler After Hutson’s Striking Disregard on Vacation Rentals

| March 23, 2017

Rep. Paul Renner, left, appears willing to take up Flagler County officials' cause to preserve vacation-rental regulations in the Hammock. Sen. Travis Hutson? Not so much. (© FlaglerLive)

Rep. Paul Renner, left, appears willing to take up Flagler County officials’ cause to preserve vacation-rental regulations in the Hammock. Sen. Travis Hutson? Not so much. (© FlaglerLive)

Note: Flagler County Commissioner Greg Hansen and Rep. Paul Renner have scheduled a town hall meeting on vacation-rental and beach restoration issues at 5:30 p.m. Saturday, March 25, at the Hammock Community Center, 79 MalaCompra Road.

Toward the end of Tuesday’s breakneck hearing on a vacation-rental bill in the Senate Committee on Regulated Industries, Connie Leon-Kreps, the mayor of tiny North Bay Village, a collection of three islands and 8,000 residents between Miami and Miami Beach, sought to describe to the committee what it was once like to deal with unruly short-term renters in such a densely packed town.

“Imagine having weekenders coming in, 12, 20, in two, three-bedroom homes and partying,” she said, looking at Sen. Travis Hutson, who chairs the committee (and represents Flagler County). “I’m sorry, this is very dear to my heart and it should be to you too, because if you were affected by it, with obscenities, with parties at 2, 3, 4, 5 o’clock in the morning, pool parties next to you, it would affect you.”

“I understand ma’am,” Hutson shot back, “I’m the reason you have that law, so I got it.” But did he? What Hutson said and what he did were different stories.

Hutson’s statement to the mayor was at variance with an amendment he’d filed to the bill under discussion (known as Senate Bill 188). His amendment would have plundered his own law, which he helped pass in 2014 primarily in response to complaints from Hammock residents in Flagler County, who echoed the sort of conditions the North Bay Village mayor was describing. Hutson was filing his amendment under the guise of a compromise, claiming that the controlling bill, sponsored by Sen. Greg Steube, would be worse.

To Flagler County Commissioners, the Hutson amendment would have the same effect as the Steube Bill: either would make it impossible for county government to regulate short-term rentals as it has since 2014. Commissioners on Monday urged Hutson to withdraw the amendment. He did. But he looked vexed doing so, and even though he voted against the Steube bill–which nevertheless passed the committee on a 7-3 vote–he made his position clear: his opposition was nominal, not heartfelt. If his body language hadn’t shouted it, his silence had: he wasn’t going to be Flagler County’s champion on this one. He would comply with the commission’s wish to oppose the bill, but no more.

Flagler County Commissioner Greg Hansen. (© FlaglerLive)

Flagler County Commissioner Greg Hansen. (© FlaglerLive)

His actions–or inaction–showed how. Hutson raised no questions. He did not challenge Steube. He did not use his powerful position as committee chairman to sway a single colleague his way. He did not seize on the fact that the 31 people appearing before his committee were running three-to-one against the Steube bill, with residents, local government representatives, local control advocates, city and county associations all opposed, and only vacation-rental industry representatives and their lobbyists for. (See the complete tally and identity of those who voiced opposition and support to the bill here.) The only rousing thing about Hutson’s No vote was a huff.

That left Flagler County officials at a loss. Commissioner Greg Hansen and County Attorney Al Hadeed had been in the audience, Hadeed addressing the committee in a tense three minutes, Hansen voicing his objection to the bill without taking the podium. After the hearing they spoke to Hutson.

“I asked Senator Hutson to please stand up and be counted from this point forward, if asked, to speak up, to support us,” Hansen said in an interview this afternoon. “He didn’t say he wouldn’t do it, but he didn’t day he would do it, either.”

Hutson’s was the second committee the bill had cleared in the Legislature. A similar bill cleared a House committee on a 9-6 vote last week. Steube himself is not, of course, framing his bill as favoring the vacation-rental industry, or even favoring tourism (since tourists are the overwhelming beneficiaries of the industry), but as a property rights equity issue.

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“All of the things that I heard–parking, noise, the amount of bedrooms, the amount of people at the house, if this bill passes,” Steube said just before the vote, “all the municipalities, cities and counties can still regulate based on those things. They just can’t say, oh, only vacation rentals can’t do it, but our primary residents can do whatever they want. It just has to be uniformly applied.”

Hadeed has called the approach a false equivalence, since regulations target safety and nuisance issues specific to vacation renters, issues that do not normally apply to full-time residents. But despite the vote and Hutson’s disinterest, county officials aren’t giving up on either chamber.

“We have not given up on the Senate,” Hansen said. “We’re trying to get some more information out of Sen. Hutson with regards to the information he’s getting from people supporting SB 188. We have a letter going out to him, I hope we’ll get it out by Monday, for more information. We’ll be meeting with more senators to get help.”

In other words, Flagler County officials will be doing Hutson’s job, meeting the senators he won’t. Hansen and Hadeed were in Tallahassee this week. Next week it’s Commissioner Don O’Brien’s turn, along with Hadeed. But the county is also shifting strategy, at least to some extent, back to the house–and to Rep. Paul Renner, who represents Flagler County. The reason: Renner’s opposition to the bill is more muscular, and his willingness to champion Flagler’s opposition explicit.

“A deal was struck, a bargain was struck among all the stakeholders to strike a balance between private property rights and the rights of neighbors to have the quiet enjoyment of their property,” Renner said this afternoon in an interview, “and we need to let that deal stay in place and let it work, so I’m not happy that we’re revisiting that deal at this point.”

Three years ago it had been then-Sen. John Thrasher who’d championed Flagler’s cause to restore local regulatory control in vacation rentals, with Hutson tagging along in the House and diluting the regulations with concessions to the short-term rental industry. This time, it’s the House member who appears set to carry Flagler’s load. Renner is likely eager to do so because he’s taken a beating over other bills he’s championed that local officials oppose, just as Hansen is eager to show himself a worthy successor to the late Frank Meeker, who’d been the commission’s point man on vacation-rental regulations.

Renner and Hansen were talking about the issue earlier this week, and jointly decided to hold a town hall in the Hammock Saturday. Renner wants to hear residents’ positions on the vacation-rental issue and talk about beach-restoration issues. The meeting is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. (March 25) at the Hammock Community Center, 79 MalaCompra Road.

“I actually asked that we have a meeting and want to make sure everybody is clear on the strategy, and I want to make sure we have as large a group of people” show up, Renner said, so he can “carry the will of the people” back to Tallahassee. “Now that the issue has been reopened against our wishes, what is the right course of action, do you we have an opportunity to stop the bill from becoming law, if not, what is the best plan B, if there needs to be a plan B. Those are the topics I want to discuss with our community Saturday.”

Renner himself has not formulated a Plan B yet, nor has he directly discussed the issue with Richard Corcoran, an ally, but he has told Rep. Mike La Rosa, the sponsor of the vacation-rental bill in the House, that he will vote against it. The bill is expected to be on the Tuesday’s agenda of the House Career and Competition Subcommittee meeting. Renner is a member of that panel.

“We hope we get a good enough crowd there to talk to him,” Hansen said, referring to Renner. Despite the short notice and the weekend timing–the only time Renner could make it–county officials are hoping for a turnout of about 80 people, with the meeting designed as a message to legislators in Tallahassee.

“The Steube bill is absolutely a disaster for us, we’ll be back to the 2011 rules, which are no rules, and not be able to enforce the rules that we had,” Hansen said. “They’re trying to sell it as if it’s good for one, it’s good for all. It’s beguiling, Steube’s attack, because he makes it sound like you’re un-American if you’re not for his bill.” Hansen continued, “the only people who benefit from the Steube bill are the industry.”

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14 Responses for “Renner Seizes Reins for Flagler After Hutson’s Striking Disregard on Vacation Rentals”

  1. Jan says:

    Great article!

    Hope Renner will step up to the plate, and hope he will explain why he is the co-introducer of HB 17, which says “Regulation of businesses, professions, and occupations preempted to the state.” And, “On or after July 1, 2017, a local government may not adopt or impose a new regulation on a business, profession, or occupation unless the regulation is expressly authorized by general law.”

    And….that “Any such regulation expires on July 1, 2020.”

    Doesn’t sound supportive to me, but perhaps Mr. Renner has had a change of heart.

    I’m happy to give Mr. Renner the benefit of the doubt, and we will see and hear what he has to say on Saturday. Everyone come!!! These threads are obviously of great interest to those in the community. Let Renner know we want home rule, and we don’t want the rental industry controlling our politicians.

    And, keep in mind that another Bill, SB 1186 is designed to take away HOA authority when it comes to short-term rentals. Abominable.

    Commissioner Hansen and Mr. Hadeed, you rock!

  2. PCer says:

    Isn’t the GOP the party of small government? Does that only apply when it is not in their own backyard?

  3. Dave says:

    God forbid people party and have a lil fun in their life, sorry not everyone is stuck in the past working 9-5 hunkered down like a prison facility. This is a new generation, we don’t rent houses or own homes, we stay on the move ,rent a home temporarily and move on to the next

  4. Wishful thinking says:

    Hey Dave
    Hi party at any of the thousand hotels/condo hotels
    .. you have no legal right to interfere with the quiet peace and enjoyment my deed guarantees me. Hope most readers agree and that we all get to meet each other Sat nite at the Hammock with Rep Renner who operates in reality mode and who, thank GOD, is not spaced out or bought off

  5. Another Day in Paradise says:

    I don’t understand the hysteria surrounding vacation rentals. Doesn’t local law enforcement put a stop to wild partying in the middle of the night if called upon? And where is all this craziness happening in such a small town, well off the beaten path? The Hammock? Not a place known as a vacation mecca, so the attraction of hundreds of ill-intentioned vacationers is hard to understand. Could it be that there is some exaggeration involved? I get that there is money at stake (taxes and other fee’s) but don’t the dollars that visitors to the beach spend make a positive difference? Or is the issue really that Flagler Beach and the county want it all so these stories of raucous vacationers are necessary to the business case? That being said, I wish the same aggression would be applied to group homes that are allowed in every Palm Coast neighborhood. Living next door to a home where parked cars overflow to the street, staff are coming and going 365 24/7, add visitors and the community bus stopping continuously throughout the day – now does not do much for the property value or quality of life.

  6. Jan says:

    Wishful Thinking,

    HB 17, co-introduced by Mr. Renner, and moving through committees, is a big concern. It takes away home rule from the county. It “Prohibits certain local governments from imposing or adopting certain regulations on businesses, professions, & occupations after certain date; preempts to state regulations concerning businesses, professions, & occupations; provides exceptions to preemption.”

    We want to be able to make decisions that are best for us at the local level, not get rid of the ability to do that. Hope you agree. We need to carefully question Mr. Renner Saturday night on his stance about home rule for Flagler, and be sure he is our representative, and not working with the short-term rental industry (as is Mr. Steube).

  7. PCer says:

    So….if we stop the vacation rentals, will that increase foreclosures on these properties – which will then bring down home values? What do you want? A few vacationers bringing in much needed revenue or abandoned homes? Seems to me that homeowners are renting out their homes not necessarily to make a profit, but probably more so to save it from the auction block.

  8. Jack Howell says:

    Hutson has shown his true colors. Travis is no friend to Flagler County. He is nothing more that a spoiled rich kid who grew up with a silver spoon in his mouth. I wonder what lobbyists lined his pocket.

  9. Jan says:

    PCer – the properties we are unhappy about are built by out-of-county, out-of-state, and in some cases out-of country investors solely for profit. No one ever “lived” there. Ten bedroom – and more – houses built by investors to house lots of people on a rotating weekly (or even less) basis.

    Here is an example – a house built by an investor and rental agent: Note the dining room! This is NOT a “mom and pop” attempt at trying to avoid foreclosure – this is a business in a residential community. Bills to take away Home Rule take away the ability to control these hotels within neighborhoods, and why the county must let our “representatives” – Renner and Hutson – know that we want to be able to control what is going on in our county.

  10. cls says:

    Sounds like Renner and Hutson are following the alt-right winger lead of taking away local gov rights and forcing them to only be beholden to the State and ONLY the state. DeSantis as well. First Fla republicans try to change the balance of powers (Gonzalez) by trying to pass a bill (state and nationwide) that would allow legislators to overrule judges decisions in court cases (including the state and national Supreme Court) up to 5 years after a verdict is rendered, then they try to do what Michigan did to it’s local governments and take away their authority and ability to govern on their area’s behalf.

    Will they next vote to have earthquake-causing and water-polluting fracking in the state?

    What’s next – oil rigs off our Atlantic coastline? There’s a tourist killer and environmental destroyer. Seeing the little oil globs washing up on Folly Beach in South Carolina from the visible oil rigs off their coastline, the dead clams, the dead seagulls, etc. should give everyone pause (I was appalled when I witnessed this).

    Florida is unique and beautiful. Let’s KEEP it that way, please.
    Some republicans are not worth voting for and it looks like several need to be voted OUT asap.
    Vote for Adam Morley in 2018.

  11. Dave says:

    Some people need to face facts that they bought a home in a vacation state, in a vacation neighborhood. I mean, it is Florida, the land of cheap properties, and affordable living

  12. PCer says:

    I don’t know Jan. Seems to me that many of these properties sit vacant for the greater part of the year. Sure, we have our peak times, but I can’t see any of these properties turning a profit over the long haul. How many of these are homes of snowbirds who are up north in the summer and only down here in the winter. To help afford 2 homes, they rent it out while they are back up north (and vice versa). Without the ability to rent it out, they would lose that second home.

    I am not saying it is the perfect situation, but I would think that HOA rules and other local ordinances would come into play to help keep down noise and other problems associated with short term rentals.

  13. Bc. says:

    The mini hotels in residential neighborhoods are a business run by companies that don’t care how many people they put in a single family home. We do not live in commercial zoned area. We have one of the mini hotels in my neighborhood 20+ people staying in it a 3 bedroom home with the garage converted to too more bedrooms It is a major problem for us just use your image on what we deal with you have no idea. Leave the law stay as it is. And this guy has to be voted out I am sure he is working on behalf of the rental company’s with some sort of kick back. There is a town hall Saturday at 530 let’s all show up and give him a ear full. Again this guy needs to go he don’t give a hoots ass about us.

  14. Facts says:

    This is he 2017 House bill 17 that Representative Renner is co sponsoring. It will remove home rule from our local governments including the regulation of short term vacation rentals.

    Senator Renner should withdraw his co sponsorship of House bill 17 along with voting against House bill 425 and Senate Bill 188.

    The 2014 Senate Bill 354 should stand as written. It has not prohibited vacation rentals. Tourism has increase in our state since 2014. This bill was a compromise with the vacation rental industry. Keep home rule in place. Our local officials should be able to respond to the complaints that they receive from their constituents. Each locality has different issues. One size does not fit all.

    Go to now!

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