By Angela and David Bailus
We all know the definition of “Home.” As the American heritage Dictionary defines it, it’s a place where one lives; a residence, a house or apartment, a household.
Here’s the definition of “Commercial”: “Occupied with or engaged in commerce or work intended for commerce.” And “Business”: “A usually commercial or mercantile activity engaged in as a means of livelihood.” Flagler County, where we live, defines “vacation rental” as “commercial business” by code. Vacation rentals could be among the examples listed under dictionaries’ “commercial” or “business” entries.
Yet many counties and cities around Florida, including Flagler, are allowing businesses to set up in single family residential zones. Originally, this was to help people in the wake of the Great Recession who were about to lose their homes. This is no longer the case.
Enter multibillion dollar corporate goliaths like AirBnB and Vrbo, rapidly taking over single family residential neighborhoods with global advertising and conducting these businesses without the approval of the neighbors by these commercial enterprises.
Before we built an addition to our home, we went before the zoning board, twice, and paid the county to notify all neighbors of our plans within a 500-foot radius of the job site. We posted a sign for two weeks, stating what our intentions were and when these plans were going to be presented before the board, allowing neighbors to speak their concerns. There is no such requirement for the new business next door. I never got notification that AirBnB was to operate in our neighborhood. These corporate goliaths are indifferently steamrolling the Davids in their neighborhoods.
Let me use the house next to us here in the Hammock as an example. It was once a residential home like all others. It’s now a business. The owner is not using this building as a safety net to prevent losing property, but purely as a commercially-advertised business, running 24/7. There are at least four more like it on our short street.
Flagler County has informed me that there are no restrictions as to how many days per year these businesses can rent to transients, nor how many of these businesses can be located in our neighborhood. This means we could be surrounded by innumerable commercial business units, depleting residential housing stock, affecting rents and sales, increasing traffic, killing privacy. These businesses operate by their own rules, depriving us of neighbors and community.
The corporations claim short-term rentals will bring in tourists and revenue, framing it as if these tourists are deprived of the local amenities, which is a false narrative. We have hotels, motels, restaurants, shopping, boat ramps, beaches and parks already available to the public, within the proper zoning. We also have a very large resort on the beach in the Hammock, zoned for commercial businesses. Such commercial businesses should not be allowed in single-family residential zones.
These corporate goliaths claim they will bring us additional taxes, but the reality is, now that Travis Hutson’s bill passed, they will be able to sue the local government (meaning us taxpayers) for any regulatory changes that may cause a business to lose 15 percent or more.
These corporate goliaths claim vacation rentals will bring jobs to the area. Actually, the “host” next door to us is not the owner, does not live in our county, and brags online that she also manages properties in other parts of the country like Stowe, Vermont. The owner, the host and the handyman do not live in Flagler County. The “guests,” unlike permanent residents, are transient: day for day, the residence will be occupied fewer days of the year than a permanently occupied home, so day for day, that dwelling will be the source of less, not more, purchasing power.
Other cities around the country are trying to retain or restore the sanctity and quality of life. San Diego’s AB 1731, which was authored by a San Diego area assemblywoman, will cap the number of entire homes that would be converted to short term rentals at 1 percent of residential housing stock, and reduce by a third AirBnB-type rentals that occupy only a portion of a home would still be permitted.
Oahu, Hawaii, is pushing a bill that would also scale back short-term rentals. Numerous other cities and counties are also restricting vacation rentals to 30, 90 and 180 days a year, often requiring the owner to live on the premises. Many are fearful of the long-term effects–pushing out young, long-term renters and home buyers and limiting affordable housing, with investors again having a disproportionate role in driving the housing market.
Year after year in Florida the vacation-rental industry has attempted to scrap what little local regulation there is on rentals, with millions in advertising and lobbying. Those bills failed yet again this year. They will be back next year. Meanwhile the state is not addressing the fundamental shift that vacation rentals have caused in our neighborhoods.
We need to take back our homes, our zoning, our real local businesses, our privacy, our density, our neighborhoods, our streets, our neighbors, our communities and our sanctuaries. We have the right to peace, serenity and quality of life in our own homes, in our own residential neighborhoods. Whether neighbors are best friends or barely tolerate each other, there is security in knowing one’s neighbors for who they are. A steady stream of strangers undermines that security.
My David and I purchased a home a dozen years ago and modified it into our dream retirement home. The Matanzas river was the main reason for us settling here. Now, at age 70, we are busy purchasing and planting shrubs with the hope of salvaging some of our privacy, which in turn will block our north view of the river. It appears that AirBnB’s mission statement “To live in the world where one day you can feel like you’re home anywhere & not in a home, but truly home, where you belong,” only applies to transients with credit cards, who only “belong” for a night or two.
We belong, too. Or so we thought. In the eyes of the law, of local zoning, of tourism’s supremacy, our sense of home appears irrelevant.
Angela and David Bailus are residents of Hernandez Avenue in the Hammock.