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Flagler Will Try a Different, Riskier Strategy to Protect Its Short-Term Rental Regulations

| December 6, 2018

vacation rentals lobbying

Flagler County Administrator Craig Coffey addressing the Senate Community Affairs Committee on vacation rentals in 2017. This year, he says, he and the administrative staff will step back from lobbying lawmakers in Tallahassee on the issue. (© FlaglerLive via Florida Channel)

It’s the bad penny of legislative issues: short-term vacation rentals. And it’s back for another featured spot amid Flagler County’s legislative priorities, as it has been since 2013, though for different reasons. This year, county government may take a different, riskier approach on the issue as it attempts yet again to preserve local authority to regulate the industry in Flagler.

Commissioners have agreed not to send their county attorney or county administrator to Tallahassee to appear before legislative panels, as they have previously, even though Al Hadeed, the attorney, is–like a solicitor appearing before judges–most experienced in framing issues in terms legislators can understand, and with background enough not to be snowed by lawmakers’ often inaccurate but rhetorically potent retorts.

Instead, commissioners are volunteering to do the job themselves. They’re not without experience doing so, but it’s been slight. They want to free the administration to focus on a number of other time-consuming issues locally.

They may also take a different approach altogether: if their approach fails, they’ll ask lawmakers to “carve out” Flagler County from the rest of the state’s vacation-rental bill, should that bill scale back local control, thus preserving Flagler’s existing regulations and removing Flagler, a recurring thorn in legislators’ sides since 2013, from the matter in Tallahassee.

Either approach, however, is indicative of a local effort losing steam against what may be inevitable: a state-mandated return to light or no regulation of the vacation-rental industry, as its proponents have been seeking since 2014.

Short-term rentals are dwellings rented to vacationers for terms less than six months, and generally for terms much shorter than that. In 2011, the Legislature forbade local regulation of short rentals. The measure was intended less as a boon to the vacation-rental industry than it was as a salve to home-owners who found their mortgages upside down after the housing bubble. Rather than lose their property, homeo-owners turned to renting them out to vacationers.

Many did so in the Hammock. But that brought in an influx of vacationing revelers in residential areas. Neighbors got upset and complained of the noise and the effect on their neighborhood’s character. Starting in 2012 and picking up momentum through 2014, they lobbied Flagler County’s legislative delegation to change the law and give back to the county some powers to regulate rentals. In 2014, it worked. A new law passed doing just that, and Flagler accordingly wrote a regulatory ordinance–and was promptly sued by a vacation-rental firm.

That’s been resolved–in part to the government’s advantage, in part to the vacation renters’–but ever since, the vacation rental industry has been pressuring lawmakers through bill after bill to go back to the 2011 standard. It almost succeeded in the past two years, with such bills making it through most House and Senate committees until the effort would falter at the end. The industry will almost certainly try again when the Legislature convenes in March.

Meanwhile, Flagler officials have developed a reputation for being pests to lawmakers in that regard.

That’s what’s prompting the different strategy this time around.

“We’ve all had fun on short-term vacation rentals,” County Administrator Craig Coffey said wryly to commissioners in a workshop earlier this week, recalling the efforts of the past few years, “and this has led to some of the animosity with our elected officials, our delegation.” He doesn’t want to lose recent gains.

He proposed an alternative. “Maybe for not seeing our faces up there on that issue, and I’m talking collectively, Mr. Hadeed, myself, all of you, is that they do a carve-out for Flagler County and exclude us from that.” Coffey said for the short-term rental industry, the biggest threat is not Flagler County but existing regulations that ban them outright in certain places (Flagler Beach has just such an ordinance in place. Palm Coast does not). With that in mind, maybe Flagler can win an argument that would essentially grandfather it out of the statewide take-back of local regulation.

“We don’t want to be the tip of the spear, and you guys have asked us not to be the tip of the spear if at all possible,” Coffey said.

“We’ll do the heavy lifting if we have to,” Commission Chairman Don O’Brien said. “Let us take the heat this year.” That would not amount to removing Flagler officials from in front of lawmakers as changing cast.

There’s also risk in hoping to keep Flagler out of a new statewide law. “The problem with a carve-out, it works until the 11th hour when it’s on the floor,” Coffey said, “sometimes those get stripped” or amended, unless Sen. Travis Hutson and Rep. Paul Renner, Flagler’s lawmakers, can pull strings and ensure that the county’s interests are protected. They can do so, but only up to a point.

“We’ll just see how things progress, and monitor it,” O’Brien said in a subsequent interview, suggesting that the primary approach will be to defend the law as it stands now, and the secondary approach, if that fails, to try to get a carve-out for Flagler. “I would say we all have relationships with our legislators and we plan to use those as we have to.”

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13 Responses for “Flagler Will Try a Different, Riskier Strategy to Protect Its Short-Term Rental Regulations”

  1. Dave says:

    Flagler County loves and needs our short term rentals! It has been so nice to give a little diversity to our neighborhoods and meet new people from all different places. Keep regulations out our county and stay out of our buisness. Keep these air bnb style rentals in business and our county will see much more good to come! Alot of younger generations use these homes to live and move around more ,I think it is amazing the way the youth uses their options plus the music they play while partying livens up the neighborhood.

  2. William White says:

    Both Renner and Hudson have been neutral at best on this issue and I doubt they will voice strong support for Flagler Counties position. We will see how this plays, but concern over Legislators conflicts of interest ( many legislators own or are involved in rentals ) is of most concern.

  3. Ben Hogarth says:

    Flagler County has actually fought hard to retain “home rule” authority, but it’s clear that legislators are more apt to side with special interests and big business than to protect the rights of private property owners. It’s no secret that the vacation rental business is a total circumvention of business taxation and commercial regulations. Without an expectation for certain “inalienable rights” of small-family, residential homeowners, how can we hope to retain home ownership at rates that sustain the economy? The younger generations are already economically strained to the point that home ownership is not only unappealing, but also not feasible in many cases.

    Vacation rentals are the last nail in the coffin – removing any ideal and sense of residential community and neighborhoods by eliminating the peace and tranquility that comes with it. As a nation, our priorities are completely backwards and we need to look inward. We need to stop placing business interests ahead of those of residents and taxpayers. It’s good to see that Flagler County has at least not lost sight of this critical point.

  4. Facts says:

    We do not want to hurt the legislature feelings. That is what our new commissioner are singing. They all say they want to protect home rule. But that is not the case.

    Do we in this society know what local property zoning is? Well it seems it does not apply to transient public lodging establishment businesses that operates as vacation rentals. Why are Bed and breakfast dwelling required to follow local zoning laws? Why does an owner of a single family dwelling that converts the use of this dwelling to a bed and breakfast not permitted in residential areas zoned for single family use, in additional to changing their certificate of occupancy, following additional Florida fire safety codes including inspections twice a year, paying the required taxes, being ADA compliant and in most cases required to install a sprinkler system. The simple truth is both these dwellings are transient public lodging establishments. But the bed and breakfast is supervised by staff 24/7. Where a vacation rental is not.

    Zoning was put in place to protect our neighborhoods from incompatible uses. This applies to all pubic lodging establishments with the exception of vacation rentals. These unsupervised whole homes dwellings are not rentals at all. If they where the occupancy would be permanent and the owner would draw up a lease or a rental agreement. This is not the case with a vacation rental dwelling. The owner let’s transients occupy this dwelling daily, weekly or less then one month. In addition to using a licensing agreement the same agreement that hotels, motels and bed and breakfast use.

    When other states are tightening restrictions our legislators insist on lessening regulations. This is bad news for our single family neighborhoods. Our Flagler county commissioners need to understand what has happened since 2011. In 2011 the vacation rental industry lobbied the legislature to pass Senate bill 883. What this bill did was open up every single family neighborhood that was not protected by local property zoning laws or an ordinance prior to July 2011 to these unregulated vacation rental dwellings. We actually had these dwellings being operate with 20 to 26 occupants. This was not just a weekly operation. It was daily. In addition these dwellings where operating in non compliance with the Florida fire code. This bill also exempted these dwellings from inspections and sprinklers. In addition to changing their name. These dwellings where referred to as a Resort Dwelling. Why the name change? Why not ask the lobbyist from the Florida Vacation Rental Management Association Lori Killinger? You here a lot about property rights. This type of activity in our single family neighborhoods was never a right. But our legislators gave them the right in 2011 when they removed our local property zoning laws the protected us from this incompatible use.

    I am personally going to get a hold of each one of these commissioners and educate them. They are making a hudge mistake. If anyone is going to speak on behalf of us constituents it should be the county attorney.

  5. Anonymous says:

    Vacation renting has been a disaster for affordable housing. They drive up prices and limit availability of traditional rentals. Please remember the regular citizens of Flagler who need a place to live.

  6. Jane Gentile-Youd says:

    Fat chance ( my opinion) that any ‘non-charter’ county will ever be granted a ‘carved out’ piece of legislation unless all other 47 non charter counties will (have) be offered the same. Tallahassee – especially during session – is a snake pit and only our award winning county attorney, Al Hadeed, has much experience dealing with the other snakes in the legislature. This ‘ new approach’ in sending well meaning commissioners, whom I thank, will not work and Hadeed and Coffey both know this. I smell a rat

  7. Facts says:

    Just watch which Representative and Senator introduces a bill taken away home rule. It will be one that has a vested interest in this activity. LaRosa certainly does. He is looking to put cash in his pocket. It will be an attorney or a real estate guy for sure.

  8. E, ROBOT says:

    What Facts said.

  9. RTC says:

    Surely Al Hadeed and the Commissioners know that there is no way that Flagler County will be carved out of any legislation that reopens the doors for unregulated short term rentals. They have given up and are throwing the residents of Flagler County to the wolves. Seems like all they are really concerned with is getting more bed tax revenues.

  10. Jan says:

    We need ALL our elected representatives to fight for Home Rule. Very disappointed to read this post.

    Virtually no one is opposed to an owner-occupied home renting out a room to two on occasion to help ends meet.

    Please don’t believe that the short-term rentals bills are designed to help struggling homeowners.

    From the Chicago Tribune: “In fact, 81% of Airbnb’s U.S. revenue – a whopping $4.6 billion – comes from whole-unit rentals where the owner is not present during the time of the rental.”

    Our community had an investor who lived in Missouri and owned 16 home/lots. Another person who does not live in our county and who runs a company that rents short-term properties owned 10 houses/lots. These are not the “mom and pop” operations that Airbnb touts. These are hotel/businesses being run in our communities.

    Many of the legislators proposing such bills (such as Mike La Rosa) are realtors or otherwise benefit from this type of legislation through their business or through contributions by the pro-short-term rental companies. Some of our so-called representatives (such as Mike La Rosa and James Grant) even speak on behalf of the short-term rental industry at their conventions!!

    Ask yourself this question: Would YOU move into a community where the house on either side was owned by investors, rented on a weekly basis to rotating groups of 15 – 20 people with no investment in the community?

    If you don’t contact our representatives (Travis Hutson and Paul Renner) and let them know how you feel, you may no longer have a neighborhood – you’ll be in a strangerhood. Call/email them today!

  11. so confused says:

    I don’t understand it. My understanding is if you rent out room you need to be there. That make sense.

    But does this effect if your renting out a house? With taxi or uber you have a driver and your renting a seat. But Avis, enterprise, you rent a car you have the car without having someone required to be there.

    I understand this started because bed and breakfast must pay for inspections, and taxes. I have not looked for them, so I have not heard of someone renting out just rooms (other than bike week when everything is full). And that is why these laws are coming in to play. This should not affect if someone is to rent an entire house for the weekend, week, ore month, is what I’m told. I have no clue and trying to look this up is so confusing.

  12. Facts says:

    Let’s take it to the residents that live in this state and have a vested interest in their communities. This should be brought to a state wide vote.

    I am proposing that our legislature put it to a ballot.

    Let’s ask the question.

    Would you live nextdoor or buy a home as your permanent residence in a community that allows transient public lodging establishment businesses classified as vacation rentals?

  13. marlee says:

    Are HOA restrictions on rentals included in the propose State Short term law.?
    Can they be overturned?
    I can’t get a clear answer on this question.

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