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1st Round in New Session’s Vacation Rental Saga Goes Against Flagler Government

| January 30, 2018

A proposal by Sen. David Simmons, a Longwood Republican, was outflanked by Sen. Greg Steube's proposal in a committee vote today. (Florida Channel)

A proposal by Sen. David Simmons, a Longwood Republican, was outflanked by Sen. Greg Steube’s proposal in a committee vote today. (Florida Channel)

An attempt yet again to redraw the rules of vacation-rental properties across the state got its first hearing in a Senate committee this morning. It did not go Flagler County government’s way: a bill almost eliminating local government authority to regulate all vacation rentals cleared a Senate committee this morning. But there’s a very long and tortuous way to go.

“Wherever all this goes, we’ve got a series of issues here either way that we know there’s got to be a lot of work done to try to get some closure,” Committee Chairman Tom Lee, a Brandon Republican, said.

The issue is a top priority for the county, whose 2014 ordinance regulating a fifth of the county’s vacation rentals quickly became a template for scores like it across the state, but also spurred the vacation-rental industry to seek to rein in local regulation, reserving it (or pre-empting it) for the state, whose regulatory hand is much lighter. The battle has been pitting local governments against the industry, with each side claiming to speak for the property rights of homeowners. The Legislature came close to rewriting the rules last year but fell short by session’s end, knowing the issue would return this session.

It has, with vastly differing bills about to go through the usual gauntlet of a half dozen committees in the House and Senate presumably before reaching each chamber’s floor, where further amendments are possible.

Today two bills went before the Senate Community Affairs Committee, one by Sen. Greg Steube (SB1400), one by David Simmons (SB 1640). The committee combined them into one, only to have that one bill become subject of competing amendments by the same authors of the two separate bills.

So it came down to this. Steube’s version would return the law to 2011, when the state pre-empted all regulations to the Division of Hotels and Restaurants within the Department of Business and Professional Regulation. The division would license and conduct inspections and investigate complaints, and audit about 1 percent of vacation-rental concerns a year, randomly. A single licensed operator could operate 1,000 rentals across the state: licenses are not geographically bound. Local governments could regulate, but no differently than they could regular single-family homes—which is to say, local regulation would be almost impossible as a practical matter.

Simmons’s version maintains statewide licensing and pre-empts regulations to the state. But while Steube’s version calls for total pre-emption, including for building codes and fire safety, Simmons’s does not, leaving those matters to local governments because he doesn’t think the lodging division could adequately regulate those. His version would also allow local governments to require a local certificate to keep tabs on the locations of vacation rentals and their owners. Further, Simmons would opens the way for local regulation of single-family homes that are not owner-occupied. That carves out a difference between the sort of Airbnb homes whose owners rent portions to vacationers, which would not be subject to local regulation—and have not been an issue with local governments—and those homes that are entirely used for vacation rentals and rented out either by absentee owners or by rental companies, which have created issues for neighbors and local governments.

Two camps quickly formed: the vacation-rental industry on Steube’s side, local governments and the hotel industry—which sees vacation rentals as a threat to its business model—on Simmons’s side.

“Yes, people who rent these homes have property rights, but so do the people who live next-door to them.”

 “I don’t think any legislation is required,” Eric Poole of the Florida Association of Counties told the committee, summing up the recent history of the debate. “I think Flagler County’s administrator, Craig Coffey, explained how that county right now regulates about 20 percent of the vacation rentals there. They painstakingly went through a process to involve property owners to make sure a balance was developed. I think it’s important to highlight that in 2011 the vacation industry got a very big win, it said we couldn’t prohibit vacation rentals, says we couldn’t regulate, we couldn’t address duration and frequency, and the Legislature in 2014 recognized it went a little too far, and then Sen. Thrasher and your colleague, Sen. Hutson, who was in the House at the time, addressed and made a very minor tweak that would allow local governments to have some partial regulation. So I think that was a very good balance.”

But opponents of that view see the balance in Steube’s version.

 “This all started because of the morass of local ordinances that have been adopted since 2014, that have caused significant unpredictability around the state,” said Lori Killinger, who represents the Florida Vacation Rental Management Association, “and dare I say that a lot of those ordinances, the purposes are frankly to not be complied with. So Sen. Steube’s bill and amendment in a way hits a reset button, clears the deck a bit, and puts back, for the first time, clear, appropriate, predictable regulation both at the state level and the local level. The state level will have licensing, will have inspections. At the local level they will be free to address all the good-neighbor problems they are having to ensure the quality of their neighborhoods are maintained, because what you really have bad actors. Vacation rentals are not innately bad. People can be difficult sometimes. Noise, parking, trash etc. can be regulated at will under the pre-emption that is in Sen. Steube’s bill.”

Killinger, like Steube and his supporters, opposes grandfathering closes for fear that those would encrust a mosaic of existing laws, thus preserving the sort of confusion Killinger says the industry is battling.

Community Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Lee, a Brandon Republican. (Florida Channel)

Community Affairs Committee Chairman Tom Lee, a Brandon Republican. (Florida Channel)

So it went. A representative of Miami Dade County, which passed a vacation-rental ordinance last year, said Steube’s version would “swing the pendulum a bit too far away from that balance.” A Holmes Beach official pointed out a key wrinkle in Steube’s version that got no debate during today’s hearing: it creates a property right for a single-family residential property owner to have a vacation rental. “We think that’s entirely inappropriate,” the Holmes Beach official said, “it’s against the zoning requirements the Legislature has required of local governments for 40, 50 years. We would really ask for that to come out.” It did not.

Gary Bruhn, president of the Florida League of Mayors, said “people who rent these homes have property rights, but so do the people who live next-door to them.” And Casey Cook of the Florida League of Cities said that “at its core, we think that this is a zoning issue and zoning is in place to balance all property rights, not to give one specific property an advantage over another.”

In the end, Simmons was compelled to withdraw his version in a tactical move, after Steube’s cleared the committee. He did so at Lee’s urging (even though Lee sided with Steube) in order that the Simmons proposal get another hearing further down the line.

“Neither side is happy with the Simmons amendment or the Steube amendment, they’re both a work in progress,” Lee said. “There’s going to be a lot of opportunity for continued input.”

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17 Responses for “1st Round in New Session’s Vacation Rental Saga Goes Against Flagler Government”

  1. Lou says:

    CAPITAL will prevail over the need of public interest.
    Vacation home rental industry is backed by Wall Street investors.

  2. Paula says:

    The biggest loser will be Florida if Senator Steube’s bill becomes law.

    Full-time residents – those who volunteer in schools, staff the food banks and free clinics, patronize the restaurants, movie theaters, doctors, dentists, car dealerships, small businesses, etc. YEAR ROUND, and have visiting friends and family YEAR ROUND will look to move to other places that allow them to live in neighborhoods, not strangerhoods. No one who purchased a home in a community zoned single-family wants to live in a transient location full of mini-hotels owned by investors.

    And Steube? His house is on five acres. No wonder he proclaims the concerns about unbridled short-term rentals are “overblown.”

  3. mark101 says:

    “”a bill almost eliminating local government authority to regulate all vacation rentals cleared a Senate committee this morning”

    considering none of these senators live among rental properties they have no clue. Sad day for people that live among swinging doors rentals with crowds that out number the number of rooms in a property. .

  4. Dave says:

    Good news for Florida homeowmers!! Keep government out of our neighbor hoods and out of our personal decisions

  5. Facts says:

    If any of these bills that prohibit local governments from regulating vacation rentals pass, Florida will be a real shithole!

  6. Anonymous says:

    The rise of vacation rentals has exacerbated the lack of affordable housing. We need more regulation that takes the impact of all this on the housing market for low-income families who rent into consideration.

  7. Paula says:

    We will vote out those representatives who do not represent their constituents’ interests. Beginning with our own in Flagler County – Senator Hutson and Representative Renner – if they don’t step up to the plate and advocate for their constituents. We have made it VERY CLEAR to them what our wishes our.

    Hutson is the chair of a committee that can stop these terrible short-term rental bills from even being HEARD (Steuebe’s bill). Email Hutson and tell him you are against investor-owned short-term rentals in residential neighborhoods. His email is Renner’s is

    Please do it TODAY! Bills are marching through the legislature at a fast clip.

  8. Dave says:

    Sorry Paula but the majority of home owners in Flagler County wish to keep their right to do as they please with their property, it is not investor owned but home owners who wish to have freedom. This isnt the old days when neighbors would being eachother pies.

  9. Paula says:

    Not according to the survey done on Next Door.
    5% Would.

    Our neighbors are great, and do support one another – because we know them. It’s the investor-owned houses ruining neighborhoods. If the owner is home, sure, allow them to rent.

  10. Facts says:


    You are wrong. Commercial transient public lodging establishment busniesses are incompatible with single family neighborhoods. No one saying you can not lease or rent your property. But operating a vacation rental is a completely different subject. This operation is not a rental or lease, it uses a license agreement just like a hotel, motel or B& B. This operation is a transient public lodging establishment with no owner present when occupied. A big difference from home sharing when an owner is present during the stay. In addition all of these actions should require inspections for life safety, sanitary and be subject to the required taxes paid by all transient public establishments.

    To be prefectly honest with you. You never had that right until the legislature overreach their authority and passed 2011 Senate Bill 883. But the biggest breach was the premtion of our local property zoning laws which where in place to protect our single family neighborhoods from these incompatible use.

    Our local government officials better start representing their constituents now!

    I ask this question to Homestead property owners in Flagler County. Would you buy or live next door to a transient public lodging establishment busniess, AKA Vacation Rental?

    Guess What Dave? Over 95 percent said No!

    Why does the State of Florida have two separate property rights? Local municipalities with ordinances and zoning in place prior to July 2011 and Local municipalities that failed to adopt ordinances or zoning after July 1, 2011? This is wrong.

  11. Anonymous says:

    It’s about time Flagler County Government got put in their place—not sit down and shut up and stop wasting our tax dollars going back and fourth to Tallahassee….you have again made asses out of yourselves. This is the embarrassment you get when you let the county attorney and county administrator run the show and use all of you commissioners like puppets.

  12. Dave says:

    Facts, thankyou but i already know exactly what kind of vacation rental we are discussing and i am all for it, i can care less about homeowners being present, air b&b / hotel style rentals are fine with me, whatever the HOMEOWNER wants to do with their home on their property is up to them

  13. Paula says:

    Great, Dave!

    I’m opening up a dog kennel and a gas station at my house!

  14. Facts says:

    Well Dave you are the five percent. Sorry but keep your business activities out of our neighborhoods.

  15. Dave says:

    Its less of a buisness and more of a way of life, a way to share, see , and explore, a way to meet new people and gain new friends. Its called living and you have no right to dictate how others choose to do that. Some people get comfortable in one place, being around the same people every day, others like to shake it up, enjoy strangers and try new things,

  16. Facts says:


    It is a business. This activity is destroying neighborhoods. It is decreasing property values. It is removing affordable housing. What you are describing in your comments is home sharing. AIRBNB, HOME AWAY, VRBO and Florida Vacation Management Association could care less about the rights of property owners. Every single family property owner has the right to enjoy their property peacefully without being harassed by transient occupants.

    Vacation whole house rentals is not the sharing economy. It is destructive. We all like to experience new ventures but we also need to respect property owners rights. Those rights to enjoy their property peacefully without putting up with rude vacationers. This abuse must be regulated now!

    There is absolutely no difference between a vacation rental and bed and breakfast. They are both transient public lodging establishment businesses. These businesses must be regulated equally.

  17. Dave says:

    Facts , stay on your own property if people bother you that much, i dont see why you are so afraid of people you dont knw, there is no difference between someone who lives there perminently or someone passing threw, whats the difference besides you being fussy, learn to love humanity and people and you will see . You never signed a contract saying you control anything but your own property, You dont get a say at who i let stay at my house. Im living my life how i want and i auggest you do the same

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