Two weeks ago the Florida Senate Community Affairs Committee met in workshop to discuss short-term rentals across Florida, an issue that has bedeviled Flagler County since county government in 2013 and 2014 successfully led the way to a new state law that allows for a measure of local vacation-rental regulations, reversing a 2011 law that had abrogated those rights to the state. Ever since, the short-term rental industry has been pushing hard to reverse or amend the 2014 law.
The industry almost succeeded during the last legislative session, but efforts fell shorts. Those efforts have more momentum this year, again placing Flagler County officials at the forefront of the battle. The outcome will define short-term rental regulations for the foreseeable future. Home-owner associations are on the side of permitting, not abrogating, local regulation. Paul C. Pershes, president of the Ocean Hammock Property Owners Association, sent the following letter to members of the Community Affairs Committee ahead of the committee’s meeting on Tuesday (Oct. 24), when members are expected to “wrap-up,” as their agenda notes, the workshop on short-term rentals. The letter has been slightly edited for style.
By Paul C. Pershes
I represent the Ocean Hammock Property Owners Association, which numbers approximately 1100 homes and I would like senators to understand the problems we face in our community, and to make recommendations.
We are asking the Florida Legislature to:
1. Assure that homeowner associations continue to manage their communities under their contractual master documents.
2. Protect homeowners/residents living in communities zoned single family by limiting the occupancy in transient short term rentals. For example, Flagler County has an average household occupancy of 2.71. Short-term rental occupancy therefore should be tied to the average occupancy in Flagler. Five might be a reasonable limit.
3. Continue to enforce current laws that provide for home rule. It works in flagler County.
Now the details.
Excessive occupancy: When the 2011 law was passed–the law that forbade vacation-rental regulations by local governments–it allowed the unbridled expansion of short term rentals within single family communities. No matter what you heard or will hear, the citizens and voters of these communities never expected nor wanted short-term rentals with excessive occupancy.
In my community, where the homes have three to four bedrooms and a 2.5 person average occupancy, short term rental firms came in and converted all available space to bedrooms. The number of bedrooms grew to a level of 11 bedrooms and advertised occupancy up to 26 people in a single family home. These are not single-family short-term rentals. They are multi-family rentals. Just imagine living next to a property with 26 different people each week. The side effects of this unacceptable occupancy resulted in unacceptable noise levels, garbage, cars, traffic, etc. by a new group of renters every week. Yet these were only symptoms of the problem. Excessive occupancy by investor-owned homes filled by on-line reservation companies is the problem.
In 2014, a law was passed that allowed local governments to adopt ordinances to control short term rentals, including limits on occupancy (set at 10 people for any single rental). It is working in Flagler County. The County has worked with both sides and has come up with an ordinance that is working. The real culprits are the on-line short term rental reservation companies and investor mini-hotel properties. They are not the “mom and pop” properties. They are not properties with homestead exemptions. They are not owner occupied. The investor and on-line reservation companies try to maximize occupancy to maximize profits.
They told you they want to work with the community. But our experience is the opposite. In Flagler County, the largest company’s practices have been egregious in working against the community. They do not have any management locally to monitor occupancy and guest conduct. Most owners, unless they rent themselves, have no idea what is happening to the community or their house. Most of these owners never stay at these properties. They are pure investments. Greed is the problem. The investors and the on-line reservation companies do nothing to help the community.
Rebuttal to some workshop statements. Airbnb, HomeAway, VRPs – these companies are strictly on-line reservation businesses. They have grown at incredible rates at the expense of homesteaded homeowners who live and work in Florida and, I believe, also at the expense of the hotel industry. The 2014 law change did not slow them down. They suggest their short term rental properties blend in with the community. This is opposite to reality.
Property rights. I keep hearing about the property rights of property owners. I agree. Where are the property rights of a single family resident when a mini-hotel is converted or built next to them, especially when the occupancy is multiples of the average resident property next-door? If you want equal rights, then limit the number of renters in a property to an average occupancy of the community average or no more than, say, five people.
If the owner is staying at the property, then occupancy may be increased. The presence of the owner provides for proper property management and some automatic controls. We have these rules in our community and we treat everyone equally. This includes rules related to parking, noise, trash, and so on. It works.
Florida Statutes define “Transient Public Lodging Establishments” (TPLEs) as a property with more than three short term rentals a year. We do not want transient properties in a single-family community. Long term leases work fine since the occupancy is much less and the long-term renters tend to act as neighbors.
Homeowner associations (HOAs) are an important part of our community. They have rules and regulations to properly manage each community. Each owner reviews these rules and regulations when purchasing a property in the community and agrees to abide by them. These association rights must be maintained. They should not be overruled by the State.
Community abuses: Institute legislation that controls abuses. For example, limit fines–say 20 percent of the weekly rental rate. Counties can work with some frameworks provided by the state to prevent unreasonable, outlier fines and penalties. But don’t punish the majority for the transgressions of the few.
Full-time homestead residents are the backbone of our communities and of Florida. They are the volunteers in our schools, food banks, libraries, workers, and the voters. Don’t let the abuses of the short-term rentals continue to push these residents out. We need local homeowner association rules and local home rule.
Paul C. Pershes is president of the Ocean Hammock Property Owners Association. Reach him by email here.