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Flagler Loses Hutson and Lopsided Vote as Vacation Rental Deregulation Advances

| February 8, 2018

Flagler County Commission Chairman Greg Hansen made the county's case before the  Senate Regulated Industries Committee this afternoon. It did not work.

Flagler County Commission Chairman Greg Hansen made the county’s case before the Senate Regulated Industries Committee this afternoon. It did not work.

Last year after a tense and at times snippy hearing an uncomfortable-looking Sen. Travis Hutson, who had chaired the meeting, was among the three dissenters in a 7-3 vote scaling back regulation of vacation rentals. Hutson said his vote reflected Flagler County government’s opposition to the measure. But he was clearly half-hearted about it.

A much more chipper and relaxed Hutson today was in the majority of a more lopsided 9-1 vote as his committee cleared a vacation-rental bill that goes much further than last year’s measure to disarm local government regulations and extend special protections to vacation rentals, essentially making them as sacrosanct as private residential homes and removing them from the regulatory scheme that controls public lodging establishments. Only a state agency, Florida’s Department of Business and Professional Regulation, would inspect and regulate vacation rentals, lightly so, with only up to 1 percent of homes potentially inspected each year.

A grandfather clause allowing local governments that passed vacation-rental regulations before 2011 survived, which will benefit Flagler Beach, whose more restrictive ordinance dates to 2008. The Flagler Beach City Commission had become so concerned about losing that regulatory authority that Jane Mealy, who chairs the commission, took the rare step of issuing an open letter to residents urging them to pressure Tallahassee against removing home rule. She won half of what she was asking for.

But Flagler County government has been battling to preserve the 2014 law enacted mostly at its behest, and giving it and other local governments the authority to regulate vacation rentals to some degree. Today’s vote of Hutson’s Regulated Industries Committee, like the vote last week by the Senate Community Affairs Committee, wipes that out.

Sen. Travis Hutson was far more relaxed and jovial this time, compared with when he heard a similar bill in last year's session. He opposed it then. He approved it today. Click on the image for larger view. (© FlaglerLive via Florida Senate)

Sen. Travis Hutson was far more relaxed and jovial this time, compared with when he heard a similar bill in last year’s session. He opposed it then. He approved it today. Click on the image for larger view.
(© FlaglerLive via Florida Senate)

“A defeat? Yes,” said Al Hadeed, the county attorney who crafted Flagler County’s 2014 ordinance, which became a template for dozens like it around the state—and the reason the vacation-rental industry mobilized to wipe them off the books. “We were not happy at the outcome.” Hadeed had traveled to Tallahassee, as he had repeatedly last year, to oppose the bill. With him today was Greg Hansen, chairman of the county commission. Hansen spoke to Hutson’s committee, but he and Hadeed knew beforehand that they’d already lost Hutson.

Hutson had justified his vote by framing it in the amendment to the bill he submitted, and that the committee approved, by carving out a special exception for homeowner associations, known as HOAs, enabling them to regulate or outright ban vacation rentals if they so choose. Hutson’s amendment, in other words, provides for HOAs the very authority that the bill denies county and city governments, though local governments have not sought to ban vacation rentals, only regulate them. Hutson spoke of his amendment as if it addressed most of his constituents’ previous concerns. As Hansen noted, it did not.

Hansen acknowledged the HOA amendment “goes a long way to make this a better bill,” but he said it remains important for the county to regulate single-family homes that aren’t occupied by homeowners but are let for vacation rentals. The distinction is with owner-occupied vacation rentals used for such things as Airbnb, which the county has no issue with.

“In Flagler County we have regulations where we go in and inspect and they get a certificate of occupancy from us, and we only look at the state building code and fire prevention code. So we want to make sure that the home is safe for renters to occupy,” Hansen said. “When we first started our program, 80 percent of our short-term rental places failed the inspection. We worked with them, and now they’re all in compliance, and we’ve not had a violation since that time.” The 2014 law enabling local regulations helped Flagler, he said, because between 2011 and 2014, the county was receiving “several complaints about nuisances, and it got to where we were getting one a week.” The 2014 legislation, he said, solved the issue, with no complaint filed since then.

While Flagler County authorizes short-term rentals in all its zoning areas, only 120 homes fall under the local ordinance that require them to be inspected.

Sen. Greg Steube, a Sarasota Republican, won the day. (Click on the image for larger view. (© FlaglerLive via Florida Senate)

Sen. Greg Steube, a Sarasota Republican, won the day. Click on the image for larger view.
(© FlaglerLive via Florida Senate)

Sen. Greg Steube, the Sarasota Republican and chief sponsor of the bill scaling back local regulatory authority (now referred to clunkily as CS/SBs 1400 and 1640) ostensibly preserves local authority in some forms. “This bill allows county and cities anything they want to do to regulate noise,” Steube said, “to regulate traffic, to regulate parking, to regulate trash, to regulate how many people you want in a home, so if you want to limit occupancy, if you want to limit how big the houses are in a certain community, you can do that, you just have to pass the law so that it applies uniformly to the entire jurisdiction in that ordinance. So there’s still a lot of flexibility here for the local governments to do the type of things they want to do.”

Steube was referring to the provisions of his bill that give local governments authority to regulate vacation rentals only to the extent that rentals are regulated exactly as private homes would be. A government would be prohibited from applying certain regulations only to vacation rentals, as is the case now with Flagler County’s 120 homes. It could not, for example, require those 120 homeowners to file for a certificate, to let the local government know who is operating the vacation rental, to leave a contact number in case of trouble—unless the local government were imposing the same requirement on all other residential dwellings.

But that, in effect, amounts to a ban on such regulation, Hadeed said, simply because no local government, including Flagler, could possibly regulate all of its residential dwellings homes just to be able to target its vacation rentals. The numbers show why. There may only be 120 vacation rental homes. But after a check with the property appraiser, the number of residential dwellings in unincorporated Flagler County totals more than 8,500. “There is no way to upscale and create a bureaucracy that would supervise 8,500 homes,” Hadeed said. Yet there are valid reasons why vacation rentals should be regulated differently, he said, starting with fire and safety codes.

Click On:

The bill drew what at first sounded like significant opposition from at least three members of the Regulated Industries Committee—Sens. Audrey Gibson, whose district in the past briefly included a sliver of Flagler, Perry Thurston and Oscar Branyon, all three Democrats, all three black, all three raising concerns with the lack of discrimination-protection in the proposed bill, but two of the three (Gibson and Thurston) also speaking very favorably of idea behind vacation rentals: they allow families that can’t afford expensive hotel rooms a chance to travel, see the country and enjoy vacations at lesser prices. For that reason, they said, they’d support the bill. Steube stressed that very point in his closing. It was all a reflection of the vacation-rental industry’s sophisticated marketing arm, which has honed its  evolving talking points since last year’s failed attempt to change the 2014 law.

Only Dorothy Hukill, the vice chair of the committee and a Volusia County Republican, opposed the bill in the end. She had been absent from the hearing last year, so there’s no recorded vote then. She explained her opposition today. “I am concerned that we have move back and forth on this,” she said. “I really have concerns about how this affects city codes and county codes also, and what the powers that they retain if this bill were to pass. Inspections—there’s so many issues still for me, so unfortunately at this point I’m not going to be able to support the bill.”

Hutson spoke of his role as the original architects of the 2014 law, saying what prompted it had been a long meeting in Flagler about what had been going on in the community. He said it was “specifically within their HOAs”—an exaggeration: HOAs at the time were free to ban or restrict vacation rentals, as they still are now, and the concern in those meetings was as much from residents outside of HOAs as from HOAs worried that they would lose the ability to restrict rentals.

“I think Sen. Steube is actually taking the right approach here of pre-empting everything to the state in the sense of instead of giving everything back and let’s see what is wrong and try and fix it from the state levels,” Hutson said, “let’s take everything to the state, and locals as we go forward through this process, tell us more of what you want us do.” He then took an odd swipe at local governments that have been pressing the safety angle, which would include Flagler, when he said: “I’m confident that not only on the complaint but some of the commercial used space that the state is going to go in there and inspect for some of these fire codes and some of these problems that locals may see. But I will say that I think some of it is kind of gotcha politics, because I’ve not heard from anybody being severely hurt in a vacation rental because of structural or code type issues. So Sen. Steube, thank you for bringing this forward. Thank you for allowing me to put that additional language to protect some of my locals back home.”

The Steube Amendment:

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28 Responses for “Flagler Loses Hutson and Lopsided Vote as Vacation Rental Deregulation Advances”

  1. Merrill Shapiro says:

    It’s time to replace Hutson as our person in the Florida Senate. He just isn’t working for us!

  2. Layla says:

    Senator Hutson, who’s side are you on?

  3. Homer says:

    Neither Senator Hutson nor Representative Renner are supportive of the voters’ interests in Flagler County. Do they really think the voters and residents want to lose local control over their neighborhoods or do they just feel that they know what is best for the residents. The best thing we can all do is to work to vote them out of office in the next election so we do not have to deal with their lack of performance in protecting those that sent them there. Representative Renner will need to run this year so we have a chance to get rid of him quickly. As to Senator Hutson, we will need to wait a few year.

  4. Jane Gentile-Youd says:

    Watching Hutson, as Chair of Senate Regulated Industries Committee Meeting today acting like an over-confident peacock convinced me that he has got to go. He is clearly a pal of Steube – the number 1 lobbyist for the vacation rental industry damning single family dwellers and hotel, Bed and Breakfasts as well.
    He was laughing as if he was just having a good ole time putting the screws to those of us by taking away our rights to local government oversight. Let’s just see their campaign contribution lists the next time they run for office. Sickening – Travis you just got added to my growing list of elected officials who has got to go

  5. Paula says:

    Why isn’t Hutson aware of the near drowning in Flagler and the two year old who DID drown in Anna Maria Island? Both short term rentals. Today was a farce. Steube couldn’t do simple math to determine occupancy (he said that is why he became an attorney), and what was said about occupancy contradicts what was passed. (Hint: easy to have 30 people in a house).
    As Hutson read appearance cards, it was apparent that the residents opposed unfettered short term rentals, and Airbnb, Homeaway, and apparently realtors are for it. Is that true, those of you who are realtors, or were you misrepresented?

    Layla, Hutson made it abundantly clear whose side he is on, and it’s not his constituents’ side.

  6. Fact’s says:

    The occupancy levels in these vacation rentals will exceed levels never seen before. It will be a complete nightmare for our residents. 150 square foot rule is absurd. It does not represent the complete rule on occupancy levels. What is missing from the equation using the square footage rule for rooms used for sleeping purposes.That rule states a requirement of 70 square feet required for one occupant and additional 50 square feet required for each additional occupant. So you would require a bedroom to be 10 x 12 for an occupant level of two. It amazes me how they left this part of the law out.

    The other occupancy requirement in SB 1400, four person plus two is absurd. A six bedroom home would allow 26 occupants. The Florida Fire Prevention code states that dwellings with occupancies of 16 or more shall be considered hotels. Once again they left this fact out.

    This committee is a circus, with the main clown being Senator Hutson. What a bunch of uneducated representatives. I can not believe the comments made by these Senators. Florida is in real trouble.

  7. Homer says:

    Our legislators are clueless – they have no idea what they are voting on. Take the occupancy rule that was discussed today in the Regulated Industries Committee. None of them could compute the maximum occupancy of a two bedroom home. How slow can they be. Also, look at the occupancy rule – it says something like a maximum occupancy of 4 plus 2 per sleeping space. What is a sleeping space? And isn’t 4 plus 2 per sleeping space a total of 6 per sleeping space. Maybe they meant 4 per sleeping space plus 2 but that is not what the rule says. So in a 6 bedroom home (assuming that a bedroom is what they meant by “sleeping space”) the total would be 36.

    We need to clean house – and lets start with Renner and Hutson.

  8. Percy's mother says:

    I would imagine Travis appeared far more relaxed and jovial this time because he’s working for the short-term rental industry, and he knows who butters his bread.

    He doesn’t care about “us” (homeowners just looking for some peace in their own homes).

    Travis cares about keeping the short-term rental industry happy because that means the $$ will keep flowing into his pockets.

  9. Fact’s says:

    It is much worse then I thought. After reading the amendment on occupancy again. It states that the bedroom occupancy will be based on six occupants per room. This is absolutely insane. As a professional in life safety this will place people’s lives in grave danger. A dwelling with six bedrooms will be allowed to accommodate 36 occupants.

    This is not a residential single family home. This is a hotel operation with no regulation. Worse off these dwellings will not be inspected prior to being issued a license by the state. These unregulated dwellings with no owner present will be operating state wide. All the local municipalities without ordinates adopted prior to 2011 will be up for grabs by investors.

    Senator Hutson’s statement that HOA’ s and COA’s can prohibit these operations may help people living in those communities but what about the rest of his constituents? Senate Bill 1400 is one of the most dangerous bills introduce this session.

    Senator Hutson’s statement that not one person has been injured is not true. This bill will cause additional injuries.

  10. jim says:

    we all know what these political hacks are….It’s just a matter of price.

  11. Dave says:

    Another win for the residents of flagler county!!! Regulate me not local government! Give the power back to the local residents to do with their homes as they wish

  12. Layla says:

    This doesn’t appear to be a win for anybody but Hutson, Dave, unless of course you own vacation rentals. I think we expect to see vacation rentals in seaside communities like these, but we don’t need to force them on just anybody’s neighborhood. Call me old fashioned, but I think it’s perfectly reasonable for local communities to expect to rule themselves, to set their own regulations and boundaries. What a concept!

    Am quite concerned at the disregard coming from both Hutson and Renner on this. Am also amazed that every Steube bill somehow benefits Mr. Steube personally. If that was his motivation for running for elective office, we are in real trouble here in Florida.

  13. Ben Hogarth says:

    How do you define irony? A largely Republican district that votes for its representation solely on party affiliation and who are time and again, misrepresented and who’s interests are sold to the highest bidder.

    The people of Flagler County voted for this. The Republican Party does not care about the desires of the average person. So I would get used to it if I were a resident and continue voting that way. On this issue and a lot of others.

  14. thomas says:

    I believe a lot of money has been flowing from the real estate industry to some of out elected and appointed officials.

  15. Sherry says:

    WRONG! These are NOT homes. . . they are hotels/motels who should be regulated as such. This is the short termed “commercial” rental industry lining the pockets of our politicians and exploiting loopholes to “commercialize” residential neighborhoods.

    Our counties and cities should have the right to “zone” neighborhoods to keep “commercial” and residential districts completely separate, and these small hotels should be required to comply with all safety regulations and pay appropriate taxes.

    Hutson. . . who is laughing all the way to the bank. . . needs to be GONE! Vote him out!

  16. Fact’s says:

    Audio from the meeting. Listen for yourself. These Senators are not educated on this important subject.

  17. Layla says:

    Ben Hogarth, your partisanship is showing. I don’t think that helps the residents here. We clearly have a situation where our state representatives don’t think we deserve the right to make our own regulations. What a concept, home rule! Instead of bitching about it, get your HOAs to start sending letters to Hutson. Hold his feet to the fire. Don’t blame everybody else.

  18. Edith Campins says:

    Another Republican ignoring the wishes of the community that elected him. Vote him out.

  19. Fact’s says:


    Did you listen to the audio. It was both sides of the aisle. All of these Senators should be replaced with common sense people that can not be bought.

  20. Ben Hogarth says:

    Layla, I have never pretended to be unbiased or non partisan. My displeasure with the modern Republican Party and its cronyism are well known to my friends, family, and colleagues. This isn’t a slight on all conservative voters or their values, but it is perhaps an honest mans only recourse for such unethical, amoral, and decadent policy propagated by that same party of delegates for the last 30 years… Sure, there are plenty of problems with the Democratic Party right now, but in all of my experiences with the good, bad, and ugly candidates from my political party, their flaws could not possibly compete with the open and shameless corruption we now see on the other side of the aisle.

    Senator Hutson has no allegiance to the people of Flagler and “holding his feet to the fire” won’t change much. It may send a signal to Representative Renner, who needs to hold a district seat in order to become a Speaker or the Florida House in a few years, but don’t expect him to go back to the “trade show” and bargain back for a change of vote on this issue or others. His campaign and that of Senator Hutson have most likely already been promised their campaign contributions tied to this vote – or st the very least, been promised an up vote on priorities I’d theirs that trump this issue. Flagler has been sold out to the highest bidder as I stated in my prior comment. Get used to it if you wish to keep voting that way.

    The bottom line is Layla, you shouldn’t be concerned with people throwing rocks or insults at your party as if to imply such action defames it… after all, those who live in something built on a stronger foundation than glass need not worry who is casting stones.

  21. Fact’s says:

    More on occupancy. This is extremely dangerous. 2018 House Bill 773 LaRosa states that persons under 18 years old will not be included in the occupancy count. There will be many deaths or serious injuries if this bill gets passed.

  22. Homer says:

    So now seven couples, each with two children under 18, can stuff 28 into a 5 bedroom rental. Looks like our Legislators are trying to one up each other in a race to come up with law changes that cause the most havoc to our residential communitiies. The transients will need to put mattresses on the kitchen table, in the bathtubs, etc.

    The 20 Lobbyists for Airbnb must be roaming the halls in Tallahassee handing out cash to reward each new bill, and amendment, that gets filed. Our representatives are tripping over each other as they run for the money.

    Hard to understand how these bozos get elected and reelected each time they run. La Rosa, and Stuebe need to go.

  23. Rhonda says:

    Here is the text about occupancy in La Rosa’s bill. Will easily add 10 – 15 people/house if those under 18 not considered a person. Everyone happy with this?

    509.6051 Occupancy limits.— Vacation rentals shall have a maximum occupancy limit which cannot exceed the total number of persons calculated by assuming there will be no more than two persons per sleeping room plus an additional four persons. For purposes of this section, the term “persons” only includes individuals 18 years of age or older. Individuals under the age of 18 are not included in the calculation of the maximum occupancy limit.

  24. Anonymous says:

    This commissioner is a boob….he was appointed because he knew someone that knew someone….not because he is qualified. We can fix that next election in 2018…vote him OUT and vote for a qualified commissioner that will represent us the voters and tax payers.

  25. Layla says:

    Ben, it is none of my concern which party you belong to. I was attempting to point out that action is better than bitching. It is not the stones I was concerned with. It was the constant bitching with no action being taken. The voters are not helpless. Partisanship fixes nothing, but action does.

    Do you belong to an HOA. or any civic organization in town? Write a letter to Hutson and have them all sign it. He doesn’t get re-elected WITHOUT THEIR VOTES.

  26. Frustrated says:

    Are you kidding me, children don’t count toward occupancy? So now we can have perhaps 6 adults and an unlimited number of children in each bedroom of a “residential” vacation rental home.
    Our legislators do not represent us and need to be held accountable, no matter of party affiliation. Hutson and Renner are clearly voting against their citizens, counties, cities and other local governments.
    Why? Must be the deep pockets of the rental industry buying their votes.

  27. Dave says:

    People complaining of possible 30 people in a vacation home are being rediculous and really strerching to find a problem

  28. Rhonda says:

    Dave, below is an example of a rental home built by an investor (lives outside of the US). I copied and pasted this bedroom listing from a rental site advertising this entire house…and this is on my street – no stretch – this is reality.

    You tell me….two people/bedroom plus 4 (according to the bill) equals 24 people…and kids don’t count in the occupancy. Note it doesn’t even tell you how many beds are in the 10th bedroom.

    You tell me how many people might be in that house if it’s a bunch of couples who bring their children with them….

    •Bedrooms: 10
    •Bedroom #1 (1 King)
    •Bedroom #10 (4 Singles)
    •Bedroom #2 (1 King)
    •Bedroom #3 (1 King)
    •Bedroom #4 (1 King)
    •Bedroom #5 (1 King)
    •Bedroom #6 (1 King)
    •Bedroom #7 (1 King)
    •Bedroom #8 (1 King)
    •Bedroom #9 (1 King)

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