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At Vacation-Rental Town Hall, Renner Hears Unanimity Against Impairing Local Control

| March 26, 2017

A sizable crowd turned out on short notice for a town hall meeting on beach repairs and short-term vacation rental issues affecting the Hammoc Saturday afternoon at the Hammock Community Center. The town hall meeting was hosted by Rep. Paul Renner, left, and County Commissioner Greg Hansen. (© FlaglerLive)

A sizable crowd turned out on short notice for a town hall meeting on beach repairs and short-term vacation rental issues affecting the Hammoc Saturday afternoon at the Hammock Community Center. The town hall meeting was hosted by Rep. Paul Renner, left, and County Commissioner Greg Hansen. (© FlaglerLive)

When Rep. Paul Renner was filling in background on the vacation-rental issue for a capacity crowd at the Hammock Community Center late Saturday afternoon, he identified the House bill in question as HB425. “And there’s a Senate companion. I don’t know the number of that bill,” he said.


“One-eighty-eight,” the crowd immediately yelled back as if in a revival’s call-and-response fashion: it’s not often that a mass of ordinary people hundreds of miles from the state capital can sound like wonks down to the minutiae of legislative bill numbers. But that’s what the vacation-rental issue has made of Hammock residents.

They were conversant with the issue—the problem, as they saw it then—long before legislators cared or paid attention, long before legislators discovered the mess they’d created in 2011, when they hurriedly passed a law that forbade city or county governments from regulating vacation rentals. Legislators thought they were doing a good thing back then.

They were, but only for a sliver of interests: vacation-rental companies who could cash in on the exploding popularity of using single-family homes as short-term vacation rentals, and homeowners who mortgaged themselves too much during the housing boom, overspent, overbuilt, and found their property deep underwater, so that turning them into vacation rentals was one way to avoid foreclosure or lose the properties.

In any case, for residents who turned out Saturday, the only allegations of water in question were the cold sort they threw on what they said was a myth: “There’s really absolutely no truth in the fact that these are struggling people trying to keep their house. These are investors who are preying on us, ruining our community,” one homeowner said to applause.

renner hansen

They’re listening: Rep. Paul Renner, right, and Commissioner Greg Hansen. Click on the image for larger view. (© FlaglerLive)

So for the large majority of homeowners affected by the change, the legislative “fix” wasn’t so good. It was sloppy and thoughtless, because it did not take in consideration the consequences it would have on them. In Flagler County’s Hammock, that meant the majority of homeowners. They didn’t buy or build their homes to turn them into vacation rentals. (There are only 100 or so such vacation-rental properties in the Hammock.) They bought and built to live there, and to enjoy the peace and quiet of the residential neighborhood they thought they were living in.

That changed when vacation rentals turned the neighborhoods into transient zones of noise, traffic, partying and the occasional unsightly scenes cropping up next door.

That turned Hammock residents into a regional political movement bent on changing the law to restore some regulatory protections locally. It took three years. But they succeeded. The Flagler County Commission joined the effort, so did then-Sen. Travis Hutson and then-Junior Rep. Travis Hutson, and by 2014, the Florida Legislature changed the law to balance property rights with local regulatory control.

This year, the vacation-rental industry clanged back on the offensive and convinced a House and Senate member to file bills that would, in effect, invalidate the 2014 protections. The bills are drafted as property rights measures that would ostensibly apply regulations uniformly—that is, to all residential homes, forbidding vacation rentals from being singled out for regulation. But to Hammock residents and Flagler County government officials, that would be the same as having no regulations, because even large governments could not effectively enforce such “uniform” regulations without an enormous bureaucracy. Al Hadeed, the Flagler County attorney referred to the measure as opening the way to “big government.”


“This is a deal that’s been broken, and should not be broken.”


Oddly, Hutson, now a senator, has not been fighting the bills to beat back his own achievement in 2014. To the contrary: last week he introduced an amendment that would have fueled the vacation-rental industry’s purposes. He pulled it only when the Flagler County Commission asked him to do so. But he did not pull it happily, and he’s not been the county’s champion in this issue. His silence has been interpreted by local officials as complicity with the vacation-rental industry.

That left Flagler’s Hammock and county government without an ally in the Senate. So they turned their attention to Rep. Paul Renner, who represents Flagler in the House and who’s only too happy to seize on a local issue that pleases constituents, if only to lessen the criticism he’s suffered because of his sponsorship or support of several other bills that aren’t so popular locally.

Renner got a sense of that displeasure from some in the Hammock Community Center crowd Saturday when he was questioned about his support for a bill, HB17, that somewhat contradicts his stand on vacation-rentals: HB17 would encroach on local control, or what’s known as home rule. Renner said that bill is targeted against abuses of due process disguised as of home rule. “I’ll tell you where I really am firmly behind home rule,” Renner said, “issues such as adult nightclubs, strip clubs, alcohol, marijuana, issues where community values, and then this issue is one of them, the short-term vacation rentals is one of those.”

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Renner’s deep involvement through other bills reflects his close alliance with the powerful House Speaker, Richard Corcoran, and all the legislators who want to curry favor with Corcoran. It also suggests that Renner has the sort of political capital that, ironically, Hutson does not in the Senate—and that Renner could choose to spend some of that capital in the battle against vacation rentals. Perhaps unwittingly, Renner provided insights into the backroom bargaining taking place. “The persuasion, that part, how people are going to vote has been happening, has been ongoing, I’ve been in meetings with people,” Renner said, noting that he’s been doing so on “all bills”—again, a suggestion that he is willing to deal, and make the vacation-rental bill part of those bills. “On this bill, I do believe there might be some folks that are movable, and so we’ll see who we can move,” Renner said. (The Sunshine law does not forbid legislators from meeting individually, behind closed doors, as are local elected officials.)

That’s why Renner was at the Hammock Community Center Saturday for a hastily arranged town hall, along with County Commissioner Greg Hansen—the local champion on the issue—Hadeed and County Administrator Craig Coffey, who’s been working overtime on this issue (among others) and has been, according to people familiar with his reaction, intensely frustrated by the legislative attempt to scrub the 2014 gains.

So the standing-room-only crowd at the community center was not a surprise Saturday, nor was it uninformed, and some in the crowd have been shuttling to Tallahassee to address legislative committees: it was there to give Renner the show of force he says he’ll need to help the county’s cause when he returns to Tallahassee this week: the House bill has its second go in a committee on which he sites. (Renner told the crowd that it would have its first vote on Tuesday. Not quite: the bill already cleared the House Agriculture and Property Rights Subcommittee in a 9-6 vote on March 14. It cleared its first Senate committee on a more lopsided vote last week.)

Renner was grateful for the large crowd. “It really makes a big, big difference,” he told the assembly, “and I really need to hear from you, especially on the vacation rental piece, on the possible outcome, the forks in the road that we may face in terms of trying to see this bill hopefully defeated, but if not defeated, how do we respond if it’s a bullet train headed toward passage, these kinds of things. So your input tonight is critically important so I can go back with some sense of the consensus about where everybody is.”

If the vacation-rental bill passes Tuesday again, “and it passes handily,” Renner said, “then the question becomes how do we look in the other committees going forward, and what do we want to do, if anything. I’m one of 120 people. I’ll vote No when it comes to the House floor as well. I can speak against it, I can do all of those things, but that will be one of the questions that has to be addressed going forward.”

It’s a lot more than Hutson has said he’d be willing to do: Hutson was not at the town hall Saturday.

But Renner heard near-unanimity on this theme: “We need you to fight for us,” as one resident—and Tallahassee shuttler—put it to applause. Others spoke of their dismay over the rapidity with which the bills are making their way through committees. One resident urged Renner to seek to stop the bill at the committee level.

“Let the locals deal with their problems,” one resident said in support of local control.

jane mealy flagler beach city commission

Jane Mealy (© FlaglerLive)

Legislative hearings, hurried ones especially, can spin the heads of fact-checkers, citing facts without context and implicitly making metropolitan areas such as South Florida seem identical to more rustic ones such as the Hammock or Flagler Beach. Flagler Beach City Commissioner Jane Mealy, who was at the Hammock town hall, offered a few correctives based on the city’s experience, singling out Sen. Greg Steube, the bill sponsor, for criticism. “Flagler Beach passed an ordinance in 2008, which was not an easy ordinance to pass. It took quite a while, because there were people who wanted short-term rentals and there were people who didn’t. After considerable arguments, and ‘You’ll never get reelected statements,” and bla bla bla, we finally did get to an agreement. I think that Sen. Steube has some mis-conceptions about Flagler Breach. Most of A1A is zoned tourist-commercial and general commercial, and we do allow short-term rentals, in general commercial and tourist commercial. So if you build a house–and you’re warned, when you build a house along most of A1A, you are warned, a bar could open next to you, a short-term, rental business could open next to you. You want to build your house, go for it, but at least you’re warned. But if you go into Central Avenue or Flagler Avenue or Daytona Avenue, or other residential areas, then we don’t allow short-term rentals.”

So, Mealy added, “if Sen. Steube wants to make disparaging comments about my wonderful little city, you can straighten him out.” In fairness to Steube, the misconceptions and falsehoods about Flagler Beach were not only his but also those of Heather Beaven, a property owner in Flagler Beach and Palm Coast–and a former candidate for office whose command of facts was on occasion impaired–who addressed a House committee earlier this month.

“I will take this, I will ask questions, and I will make my position known,” Renner said, “which is what I said at the outset, that this is a deal that’s been broken, and should not be broken.”

About 15 minutes of the town hall meeting were devoted to an update on the county’s beach-restoration projects, with County Administrator Craig Coffey outlining what’s immediately ahead–bidding out the first batch of sand and dune replenishment, for example, then, in early April outlining the longer range projects on the beaches’ horizon.

 

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17 Responses for “At Vacation-Rental Town Hall, Renner Hears Unanimity Against Impairing Local Control”

  1. Dave says:

    If I want to rent out my flagler beach home short term ,I should have that right, I don’t need local government trying to control my own personal property.

  2. Ron says:

    Dave,

    If you are using the dwelling as a public lodging establishment business expect to be regulated just like any other business. No one is saying you can not operate. But local governments should be able to react to issues that may come up.

  3. Steve Robinson says:

    What really needs to be addressed is whether the county or the state will help homeowners and lot owners with some of the cost of clearing the acres of dead vegetation in the Hammock. One brush fire starting on a windy day, and the battle over vacation rentals will seem rather beside the point.

  4. Sherry says:

    We all live here together as a community. It is extremely important to be considerate of one’s neighbors . . . that is unless your piece of paradise is so vast that you live out of shouting or seeing distance of your nearest neighbor.

    While we do not own a rental property here, we certainly hear and understand those who have complaints of “temporary” neighbors who could care less about how they disturb the neighborhood with things like late night partying, taking up all the parking places, littering, etc. etc. After all. . . their vacation rental is not “their” permanent home.

    Dave, if YOU were the one having to put up with music blasting next door at 2:00 AM. . . you would be singing a different tune. There needs to be reasonable regulations for such things in our communities. . . simply because we DO all live together and not everyone is considerate of their neighbors. . . especially when they are blowing off a little steam on holiday. The word is COMPROMISE. . . the world will never be ALL ABOUT YOU!

  5. Jan says:

    Dave,

    If I want to open a bowling alley in my home that is in a community zoned single-family residential, should I be able to do so since it’s my “own personal property”? I think most of us would agree that should not be allowed.

    And should people be able to drive as fast as they want on any road because their car is their “personal property”? Again, most people would say no.

    Flagler County does allow short-term rentals in every zoning district in the unincorporated part of the county. Their ordinance just has some common-sense oversight – for example, not packing 26 people/night into a house that is in a neighborhood that is zoned single-family. This is what happened in our community – this is why we need local control.

  6. Timothy says:

    This was a very accurate article about yesterday’s open meeting with Representative Renner. The meeting hall was packed with standing room only property owners, all there seeking help to stop HB 425 and HB 17, as well as SB 1186 and We are fortunate to have him, as well as County Administrator Craig Coffee, County Attorney Al Hadeed and Commissioner Gregory Hansen working to help control the short term transient rental property owners who are trying to turn our neighborhoods into a business, and who want to build 10 and 11 bedroom properties to rent out by the day, or week to up to 24 people at a time.

    There was not one person in the audience that expressed a desire for the various Bills being considered in our Legislature regarding short term rentals (SB 1186, SB 188, HB 425 and HB 17). The general feeling was that many of our Legislators are either out of touch with the desires of the voters that sent them to Tallahassee or they just don’t care,

  7. Wishful Thnking says:

    Dave,
    Flagler Beach is not the wild west and we do live in a land of laws…..
    Your ‘legal’ rights are detailed in your Deed, your Title policy, your Purchase Contract with Seller, which should still be available to you in not in your posession. LOCAL codes and ordinances including zoning and land use restrictions, area Master Plan… and if applicable the original DRI ( Development of Regional Impact approval from the state
    These documents and all documents pertaining to your ‘legal’ rights are public record. Thank goodness we have laws that protect us from self serving inconsiderate people and I pray we don’t lose any of these laws. You are a perfect example why it is sooooo important to preserve the laws we have so that all of us who relish and respect one’s right to peaceful enjoyment of their homes aren’t subject to selfish neighbors and the apparent ‘deep pocket short term rental growing gang’.. How about selling instead Dave?

  8. RL70 says:

    Dave, I’m your neighbor and this is my home…

    I do not want a Motel 6 next door to me with you renting out your house for a couple hours

    or days at a time…

  9. PCer says:

    No government regulation (unless it effects me and mine).

    If the neighbor is partying too late (renter or not) then call the police. I believe noise ordinances start at 11pm??? If they have cars parked in the yard and on the street, call the police. If they are throwing garbage all over, call code enforcement. There are already rules in place, why create more?

    Even better than complaining and calling for more regulation, if you live near a short term rental, go over and meet your temporary neighbors. Shake their hands, find out where they are from, have a conversation (with your words). Tell them to go eat at the local restaurants and spend money in our local stores. Give them directions and helpful tips about the area. Be a decent human being to other human beings that we share this big blue planet with. Amazing things happen when we start with kindness and decency instead of hostility and anger.

  10. Bc. says:

    We need to keep pressure on them not to allow any changes in the existing bill and remember them who don’t care about us when election time comes around. We need to vote them out send them packing.

  11. r&r says:

    Isn’t there a code in Palm Coast for the number of vehicles parked at one house? In my neighborhood there”s 4-6 or 7 parked on lawns, in swales and hanging in the road with no respect for the neighborhood. Vehicles coming and going day and night in what use to be a quiet and safe place to live. I’ve been here for 15 years and seen the city take care of what they want and turn there backs on the well being of the people living here.

  12. Dave says:

    There are already laws such as noise ordinances in place,just like now if your neighbor is blasting music at 2 a.m. you call the cops, also Jan,if you want to speed in your own car on your own property ,that is perfectly ok. Of course not on the public road tho. We do have laws people, no one is suggesting we stop enforcing laws on noise or such ,gee

  13. Jan says:

    PCer, obviously we live under regulations – speed limits, seat belts, car seats for children, picking up waste after our animals, minimum drinking age, etc. etc.

    Our community is zoned for single-family homes. I have met some of my short-term neighbors – as they roared across our empty lots on their motorcycles during bike week, fished in the ponds where fishing isn’t allowed, parked their cars on empty lots, set off fireworks on the beach during turtle season, walk on private property to cross to the beach over a private walkover, and put their trash out on Saturday as they leave, but the pick-up isn’t until Monday. (Lots of trash with dozens of people jammed into a house.)

    There is a place for short-term renters (we have all rented, I know that) – it just isn’t in a community where houses are advertised for two dozen people on a nightly/weekly basis, and that are located in a community that is zoned single-family.

    Not sure where you live, or if you’re an investor with a rental home, PCer, but I suspect you wouldn’t want to spend your free time “calling the police” and “calling code enforcement.”

  14. PCer says:

    @Jan….I have met some of my short-term neighbors – as they roared across our empty lots on their motorcycles during bike week, fished in the ponds where fishing isn’t allowed, parked their cars on empty lots, set off fireworks on the beach during turtle season, walk on private property to cross to the beach over a private walkover, and put their trash out on Saturday as they leave, but the pick-up isn’t until Monday. (Lots of trash with dozens of people jammed into a house.) These are all covered under the laws of our state and county. Call the cops – or call the owner of the property and let them know what is happening in their house. Call code enforcement. If the owners have to pay fines and other fees, they will either sell the house or put restrictions on their tenants.

  15. Jan says:

    We have done that, and the next week it’s the same thing – just different people/same issues – over and over. It’s Groundhog Day, PCer.

  16. Sherry says:

    Please remember that many communities in Florida do not have “code enforcement” officers/rules/regulations, and now it appears “local” communities will no longer be able to regulate short termed rentals. . . by the time the Republican state legislature is finished.

    Good luck with calling a police officer about parking, or trash, or packing too many noisy partying people in a single family residence.

  17. Jan says:

    Can’t wait to vote in the next election!

    There will be turnover in the legislature precisely because of this issue.

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