Flagler County’s vacation rentals may operate again after a two-month hiatus forced by a governor’s order in response to the coronavirus emergency. The county’s tourism bureau announced the resumption this afternoon after getting clearance from state regulators.
“Oh happy day!,” the tourism bureau wrote on its Facebook page in late afternoon, referring to the clearance from the state Department of Business and Professional Regulations. Effective immediately, short-term vacation rentals are now available for bookings based on the guidelines outlined in the safety plan. Rentals had been suspended since March 23.
The safety plan applies to Palm Coast, Flagler Beach and Bunnell, so any vacation rentals there may also operate, should their owners choose to do so.
Vacation rentals account for a substantial portion of Flagler County’s tourism activity and revenue: so far this year, short-term rentals, excluding hotels and motels, have generated about half the county’s $1.3 million in tourism-tax revenue. (That includes tax collected for campground rentals.)
Flagler County has some 3,200 units that fall under the overall short-term rental designation, though those include hotel and motel rooms. But Amy Lukasik, the county’s tourism director, said about 90 percent of the units were affected by the ban, which also reflects the large proportion of short-term rental units not associated with hotels or motels. Those short-term rentals generate more than 50 percent of the county’s tourism tax revenue.
Renters pay a 5 percent sales surtax, the so-called bed tax, that generates revenue for the county’s tourism budget and bureau. That revenue totaled $2.7 million last year. The surtax is paid by all short-term rentals, including hotels and motels, a cost assumed mostly by visitors. The money in turns pays for tourism marketing, capital improvements of tourism-related infrastructure, and upkeep of the county’s 18 miles of beaches, especially, in recent years, the rebuilding of dunes demolished by Huricanes Matthew and Irma.
The coronavirus emergency has devastated local tourism revenue, just as it has across the country. In April 2019, for example, Flagler’s tourism tax generated $261,000. This April, it generated just $48,000. “It’ll probably look very similar to that for May,” Lukasik said. “Fortunately we’ll have a few days of collection, but certainly not what it’s needed–which is why the fireworks had to be cut, because it’s based on projected revenue.” (Flagler Beach and Palm Coast cancelled their July 3 and July 4 Independence Day fireworks shows and parade, in part for lack of revenue. But safety, too, is playing a role.)
Late last week Gov. Ron DeSantis said the bans could be lifted as long as counties submitted safety plans to the regulatory agency, and the plans were approved. Unlike vacation rentals, hotels and motels were not affected by the governor’s ban.
On Tuesday, the state cleared the way for seven Panhandle counties’ vacation rentals to resume operations. Since then, numerous other counties have also been approved.
But every day counts. “We put in our submission of our safety plan Tuesday morning and yesterday there were counties getting approved that submitted way after us,” Lukasik said. “We got a little respectfully aggressive this morning,” dispatching the county’s lobbyist to work. “We’re happy that it happened before the weekend so everyone who’s ringing the phone off the hook between us and the tax collected can have some answers either way.”
DeSantis singled out New York City as one region from where he does not want visitors at Florida vacation rentals. It isn’t clear how that will be policed. But Flagler’s three-page plan includes a reference to the exception: Visitors from high-risk areas identified by DeSantis must make reservations that exceed the 14-day quarantine period–and “must adhere to the quarantine restrictions or be subject to established criminal and civil penalties.”
Flagler’s safety plan also requires renters to cap rental occupancy at 10 people. Visitors are “encouraged” to observe social distancing guidelines and prevent large congregations. They are required to fill out a pre-arrival health screening that includes the origin of their travel itinerary, where individuals have been in the previous 14 days, and whether anyone in the party is exhibiting Covid-19-like symptoms such as fever or respiratory issues.
Individuals or companies renting units are required to provide copies of current state and local orders and the county’s safety plan to vacationers both before they arrive and when they do. The same materials must be displayed at each unit. Company staff or those renting units are required to limit their interactions with guests except for maintenance or emergencies.
Those running vacation rentals will also be required to provide running reports about their units, and to follow rigorous sanitation guidelines set out by the Department of Business and Professional Regulations outlined in detail here.
“We recognize the priority of keeping both our residents and visitors safe and are confident that these guidelines will allow for a safe reopening of short-term vacation rentals in Palm Coast and the Flagler Beaches.”
The county this afternoon issued the following details on reopening:
The top things both visitors and businesses need to know are as follows:
- Ten (10) person occupancy cap
- Reservations from International Travelers shall not be accepted, nor booking accepted
- Self-quarantining required for fourteen (14) days for any of the following visitors:
- Any guest that has been on a cruise within fourteen (14) days of booking
- Any guest that has been out of the continental United States within fourteen (14) days of booking
- Quarantine Orders for New York Tri-State and State of Louisiana Travelers – anyone traveling from the New York tri-state area (New York, New Jersey or Connecticut) or the State of Louisiana are subject to a mandatory 14-day self-quarantine and reporting requirements.
- Specific cleaning protocols for Vacation Rentals are also in effect, which can be found here.
- Pre-arrival screening of guests to include home origin in addition to the FDOH Screening for COVID-19 found here.
- Maintain records of all bookings to include full name, address, email, phone number to be provided upon request by the FDOH in Flagler County or State Law Enforcement.
- Display COVID-19 Warning in all vacation rental units.
- Provide guests copies of the following Executive Orders:
- 2020-03 Requirements on Individuals arriving from CT, NJ, NY and LA
- 2020-82 Executive Order re: Emergency Management – COVID-19 – Isolation of Individuals Traveling to Florida (Extended by: 2020-112 Executive Order re: Phase 1: Safe. Smart. Step-by-Step. Plan for Florida’s Recovery)
- 2020-86 Executive Order re: Emergency Management – COVID-19 – Additional Requirements of Certain Individuals Traveling to Florida (Extended by: 2020-112 Executive Order re: Phase 1: Safe. Smart. Step-by-Step. Plan for Florida’s Recovery)
Flagler County’s Vacation Rentals Safety Plan: