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Flagler Again Takes Vacation-Rental Case To Tallahassee as New Battle Lines Are Drawn

| October 10, 2017

Flagler County Administrator Craig Coffey addressing the Senate Community Affairs Committee on vacation rentals today in Tallahassee. (© FlaglerLive via Florida Channel)

Flagler County Administrator Craig Coffey addressing the Senate Community Affairs Committee on vacation rentals today in Tallahassee. (© FlaglerLive via Florida Channel)

Regulating—or not regulating—vacation rentals is turning into a near-decade-long struggle involving hundreds of cities and counties in Florida, with Flagler County at the forefront of defining the regulatory approach and the short-term rental industry pushing back, often at the expense of home rule.


The struggle resumed today as the Senate Community Affairs Committee held a nearly-three hour workshop on the issue, framing what’s to come in a repeat of what took place in the legislative session last spring as the short-term rental industry tried to undo a 2014 law giving local governments authority to regulate vacation rentals.

Flagler County is largely responsible for that law and the 38 ordinances cities and counties have adopted since, most of them using Flagler’s as a template. The county is willing to revisit the law but wants mostly to protect its authority to regulate what, in this county, amounts to a hundred-some rentals, with a 133,000 such units across the state. The industry wants regulations significantly scaled back, pushing for regulations that only treat all single-family homes alike, including those used as vacation rentals. To Flagler and other opponents, that approach would be the equivalent of no regulation.


Audio: Craig Coffey’s Exchange With Lawmakers

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Last year the 2014 law came close to being repealed, with a nullifying measure making it through several House and Senate committees before falling short toward the end of the session. County Attorney Al Hadeed was at every committee hearing, battling back against a tide of industry lobbying for repeal.

Today, Hadeed was joined for the first time on the issue by County Administrator Craig Coffey, who–after being mistaken for the “county manager” of St. Johns County and a representative of the state association of counties–addressed the committee by portraying himself as a fan of vacation rentals, but also describing Flagler’s needs to preserve the rights of year-round property owners alongside those of vacation-home renters. That can only be done by preserving local government’s authority to regulate, he said.

“Maybe the balance wasn’t perfect in ’14, maybe we need a new balance, but I think the balance has to stay,” Coffey said. “We have folks in our community that don’t want them at all. We’re not on that team. And we have folks that want totally unregulated. We’re not on that team. We’re kind of trying to find that balance with you guys.” But, he told senators, if they hear of outliers, of extreme cases that are causing problems, “don’t mass-punish 500 cities and counties.”

Sen. David Simmons, a Longwood Republican, asked Coffey what he asked almost every person who addressed the committee: what would you propose? Coffey’s answer was more instructive for its premise than its details: he recognizes that bills seeking to rewrite the law are coming. He didn’t want to be seen as an outright opponent of those bills, or an ardent defender of the current law, though he’d welcome preserving that law and moving on. Instead, he described himself willing to deal, to allow local governments to make regulations less restrictive if they so choose, but to give them room to decide, and to preserve the authority to control vacation rentals within some parameters—safety, building codes, noise. “We will take all the vacation rentals you can send our way, we just want to moderate it,” Coffey said.

Coffey was not smiling when Lori Killinger, a representative of the short-term renters' association, spoke. (© FlaglerLive via Florida Channel)

Coffey was not smiling when Lori Killinger, a representative of the short-term renters’ association, spoke. (© FlaglerLive via Florida Channel)

The committee workshop had none of the hurried, tense, done-deal feel of committee hearings, when senators or representatives listen to speakers quickly, one after the other, discuss the bill under review cursively, then vote with assembly-line speed, their votes likely decided well ahead of time. The length of the workshop enabled a more deliberate approach but also reflected the importance the issue will have for lawmakers. Led by Tom Lee, the committee chairman, they seemed to recognize that this may be the year when the matter is more decisively resolved. At one point Lee asked a speaker what the industry would look like if nothing was done and the existing law stayed in place.

Lori Killinger, the lobbyist who represents the Florida Vacation Rental Managers Association, seized on the question to paint a future where vacation rentals would dwindle for being too frustrated with a mosaic of regulations. She spoke with a stack of the ordinances she said have mushroomed since Flagler’s in 2014, describing them as lengthy and filled with “whereas” clauses that make it difficult for the lay person to understand.

She predicted that “eventually people are going to get tired of complying with these ordinances,” and that there will be a “cooling effect” on the industry. (An earlier version of this story misinterpreted the context of a statement Killinger had made: she was paraphrasing another industry representative’s statement about the “proliferation” of short-term rentals, not speaking those words as her own.)

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Certainly, the numbers she herself presented—133,000 such units around the state—point to an increase in rentals, even since the 2014 law: the vacation rental industry is booming, in spite of (if not because of, as some local governments might argue) local regulations.

For all the workshop’s leisureliness, an undercurrent of tensions was also apparent, as when Killinger, one of the last people to address the committee, turned to Coffey, who was sitting right behind her to her left, and to “game out” her scenario, asked him: “Can I pick Flagler?”

“No, pick, you city,” Coffey shot back without hesitation, or so much as a smile.

“No, Tallahassee? No, that doesn’t work,” Killinger said, turning back toward the senators.

“That works,” Coffey persisted: he was not going to give ground.

Nor was the short-term rental association representative: “I’m in Flagler,” she declared, going on with her scenario, which eventually led to a homeowner thinking about opening a vacation-rental property only to abandon the idea. But again, that hasn’t been Flagler’s experience, where, Coffey had noted earlier, homes are being built as vacation-rental properties—one of them with 11 bedrooms, as one senator pointed out, brandishing an image—and by investor companies, not by mom-and-pop property owners.

Killinger wouldn’t concede the fact, saying that “maybe” investors are buying up property, but, she said, even if she were to concede that some were run by investors, “you’re still talking about 100,000 people or more who are forced to follow” these regulations, she said.

The workshop did signal what likely alliances might form and where the deepest enmities will endure. Most interestingly, Thomas Martinelli, who represents Airbnb, the hybrid vacation-renting system where more than 80 percent of homeowners share the house where people rent a room or two, spoke more willingly of preserving regulations than not, and appears to have had an ongoing relationship with Coffey.

“I’ve said it to Craig, like, 17 times, and we are sincere in that sentiment,” Martinelli said, to Coffey’s nods (and smile). “We’ll help you. We’re here. We want to make sure that this is right.”

The hotel industry is also on the side of more, not less, regulations, though Sen. Jeff Brandes, the St. Petersburg Republican who last year essentially saved Flagler and the 2014 law with his amendment to a proposed repeal, acidly said he didn’t want the hotel industry’s position “to juice” hotel stays.

“I don’t know what’s coming, what it’s going to look like,” Lee, the committee chairman, said of coming measures on vacation rentals. What’s clear is that they’re coming, and the battle lines were drawn today.

Including one additional caution from Coffey, a reference an attempt by one senator last spring to veil scaling back regulation behind a bill seemingly favoring veterans. “As a veteran, don’t wrap it in the flag. I’m a combat veteran, I saw that going on, those shenanigans, last year, don’t wrap it in the flag, please. Veterans should follow the same rules as everybody else.”

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14 Responses for “Flagler Again Takes Vacation-Rental Case To Tallahassee as New Battle Lines Are Drawn”

  1. Wishful Thinking says:

    KUDOS to Coffey for once ! Obviously, our superhero County Attorney Al Hadeed has the horses saddled and ready to go.. Does anyone read FLorida Bar approved Single Family Purchase and Sale Contract? Where does it say single family use allows commercial zoning use? No where but this is Flori-Duh we must not forget…..

  2. Anonymous says:

    This is something the county shouldn’t even be involved in. They have no right or reason to badger those who can afford such homes and bring in a significant amount of tax revenue. There is obviously someone who is personally impacted and using their position to do something about it. Flagler’s reputation in itself should be reason for any legislator to stay out of it. You can bet if Flagler is in the forefront there is something wrong with it or it has some type of stench behind it. If it weren’t for the county giving Hadeed a job, he would not be a lawyer. He was fired in 1998 and it was Holland who brought him back, and look at what she is doing in our city and to a former law enforcement officer. Live and let live. If you don’t like it, sell and move on. Coffey and company are known for sticking their noses where they don’t belong just like the dog bite matter with someone entering a home uninvited. Coffey has been in as County Administrator for 10 years, which is much longer than usual, and it is time he packs his bags and moves on. This county never had so much drama or so many issues until he came here. I don’t want to be regulated just because I own a big house and I shouldn’t be treated any different that anyone else who is a home owner. A three bedroom house can be a vacation rental and 20 people can vacation there. If jobs were available here we wouldn’t have to rent homes.

  3. Facts says:

    Airbnb if full of it. They are not a home sharing company. Most of there business is investors with multiple properties. These dwellings where built as vacation dwellings with no intent of the owner occupying.

    Why would you allowed a company like AIRBNB to dictate what restrictions should be imposed on vacation dwellings. They have lied and continue to lie. These dwellings are not owed by mom and pop. This business is destroying our communities. This busniess is causing a housing shortage. They are removing rental housing from the market and causing long term rental pricing to raise. This business is causing permanent residents to leave their homes. This business is reducing property values causing tax payers more money.

    Our ordinance in Flagler County has been thru the courts and vetted by the Florida vacation industry. Why change it?

    A vacation dwelling is not a rental. It is a business that uses a licensing agreement. These busniesses should be regulated just like all transient public lodging establishments. What makes this dwelling any different than a home that is now licensed as a bed and breakfast?

    Do not allow our legislature to change a law that has been working.

  4. Pogo says:

    @FL readers

    Slums are created by their owners.

  5. somuch says:

    As a home owner and a vacation rental owner I see both sides. In Volusia county I can only rent the vacation rental monthly BUT on the other hand I’m allowed to rent to 6 unrelated people. Tell me the logic in that. Wouldn’t it be better to have a nice couple or family stay for a week or so rather than 6 unrelated people staying monthly? How about consistent laws.

  6. Peaches McGee says:

    Aren’t there more pressing issues to spend our tax money on?

  7. Anonymous says:

    Coffey has too much caffeine in his system.

  8. Facts says:

    A monthly rental is not a vacation rental. What works for one county, city or town may not work for the other. Local governments should set their own standards. The State should stay out of the vacation dwelling issue. They have more important items to deal with. Besides they do not have the resources.

  9. Anonymous says:

    It was just reported on the news that Osceola County was allowing multiple families to live in one home with people coming from Puerto Rico. Is Flagler County going to regulate this too and throw desperate people in the street to sleep if they come to Flagler County? Private residence should not be regulated for many reasons. This is another example of this county administrator and county attorney being out of control and the county commission out of touch….come on commissioners wake up and get with the program.

  10. Dave says:

    Stop with the regulations, Rent your homes to who you want for how long you want, We don’t need goverment In our homes telling us what to do, FLAGLER RESIDENTS ARE FOR VACATION RENTALS!!

  11. Facts says:

    Anonymous,

    Your statements are not helpful. Do you have a problem regulating busniesses ? What does helping people that where devastated by a hurricane have to do with vacation dwellings? All transient public lodging establishments should be regulated equally. Why is a residential home license as a bed and breakfast treated differently than a vacation dwelling. Why is a bed and breakfast regulated by local zoning but a vacation dwelling is not ? Both these dwellings are public lodging establishments. Zoning has been in place for decades. It protects the value of property. It strives to maintain a capability. It keeps busniesses together. It does not mix incompatible uses.

    Our State legislature should have stayed out of the vacation business and left it up to each county, city and town. They keep on asking what should be done. My answer, repeal the 2011 law. This law was bad. It took away zoning rights from our local municipalities. Protect our neighborhoods now!

  12. Veteran says:

    Mr. Coffey’s statement about “wrapping it up in a flag” doesn’t take into consideration the very real hardship military families feel during PCS nor does it take into consideration how bad those hardships hit Florida’s economy.

    In places like Norfolk and Jacksonville, service members aren’t purchasing homes because service members who lose their homes to foreclosures put their security clearance and careers on the line. Without the comfort of knowing that the market is strong (resale or rental including short term rental) many military members will opt to rent during their time in Florida. That is bad for their ability to generate personal wealth and Florida’s economic health.

    If Florida can lessen that fear, it should.

  13. Facts says:

    The public is uneducated on this complicated subject. First off you can rent a home long term for a month or more without the fear of being regulated. No one is looking to take the right away.

    A vacation rental in name only is a transient public lodging establishment just like a hotel, motel or Bed and breakfast. These are residential homes, condos, or townhomes that where license by the state as a vacation rental. A vacation rental is a transient public lodging establishment. These dwellings once license are required by State law to follow additional fire codes, upgrade their property insurance for a commercial establishment and pay a bed tax or occupancy tax just like a hotel.

    These vacation rentals where called resort dwellings prior to 2011 when the state legislature decided to get involved thanks to the Florida Vacation Management Association Lobbyist Lori Killinger and AIRBNB, HOME – Away and the Florida Realators.

    After this law was passed it turned into the Wild West . Any neighborhood that did not have regulations in place was open for abuse by investors. Not the Mom and pop people looking to payoff their mortgage. There is a big difference between renting a room in a home with the owner present VS. an investor owned property with no owner present.

    Our legislature wants to know how they can fix the problem. The simple solution is repealed the 2011 law and allow local governments to regulate these dwellings. Because each municipality has different problems that can not be solved with one bill.

    Let each local government decide how they want to treat a homeshating situation VS. whole house short term rental.

    AIRBNB, HOME -AWAY are trying to pull a fast one. They claim most of their business is a home sharing business. But research has shown that this is false. They are a billion dollar business with over 80 percent of their revenues coming from investor owned properties. These investors do not care about your neighborhoods. Profits before people. In addition these investors own multiple proporties.

    If the state was looking to improve the situation they should be requiring these internet sites to collect taxes from each sale and reimburse our state. There are thousands of home sharing revenues that could be used by our Florida residents. But our representatives like Senators Steube , Hutson and Representative LaRosa are being bought and paid for by the vacation industry.

    Repeal 2011 Florida Senate Bill 883 Now.

  14. Anonymous says:

    If I restrictions weren’t in the deed when the lands were sold to these homeowners they should be grandfathered in and not be harassed and threatened. If the county implements changes at this time they should be responsible to reimburse property owners for loss of income if they impose regulations now.

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