It did not go well for Flagler County government today: yet another Senate committee voted in favor of a proposed rewrite of the state’s vacation-rental law. The proposal would essentially wipe out Flagler’s regulations, in place for just three years after the county fought hard to win enactment of the existing law.
It especially did not go well for County Attorney Al Hadeed, who was appearing before the Senate Regulated Industries Committee to argue against the proposed rewrite. Hadeed might have expected some latitude from the committee chairman, Travis Hutson, who happens to be Flagler County’s representative—and who co-authored the 2014 law Hadeed is defending, and that the re-write would, in Hadeed’s words, “eviscerate.”
But an already tense, hurried and transparently pro forma hearing got more tense when Hadeed got up to speak. His appearance at one point approximated a duel with Hutson, whose recurring, interruptive attempts to keep Hadeed to two minutes at one point seemed to stop the attorney cold: “You need to wrap it up,” Hutson told him (Hadeed was in mid-sentence, at the 1 minute 45 mark) “so we can do everybody else.”
Hadeed did a double take. “Thank you very much,” he told the senator. “I will.” He then resumed his train of thought. It didn’t go any better when Hutson and Hadeed tangled over state regulatory involvement. Hutson claimed the state was already inspecting rentals—but not single-family, short-term rentals, Hadeed insisted.
Laughter coursed through the Toni Jennings hearing room when Sen. Greg Steube, the Sarasota Republican, described the measure he’s sponsoring as “this simple, non-controversial piece of legislation,” because, he said, he was adding just 14 words to the law. The 14 words, however, would forbid local governments from regulating vacation rentals differently than other residential homes. That would in essence return the state to conditions that prevailed after 2011, when a state law forbade local governments from regulating vacation rentals. That turned some neighborhoods, like parts of Flagler’s Hammock, into small brawl zones. Home-owners and vacation renters clashed. County government was powerless to make rules that would ensure more harmony.
Flagler County commissioners and Hadeed had for two years struggled with legislators to change the 2011 law. By 2014, they’d succeeded, with Hutson then a House member, helping (and then-Sen. John Thrasher, a powerful committee chairman, helping more). “Back then, I’d like to say, we all compromised,” Hutson said, “with both sides of the issue so that local control could be obtained while still respecting private property rights.” Regulations were written into a new ordinance. The Hammock and its 100 vacation rentals adapted to a three-year peace.
That peace is in jeopardy as Steube’s bill and its companion in the House are advancing with little resistance, at times with Hutson’s help: he introduced an amendment to the Steube bill that he described as a “compromise.” It would “treat all renters the same,” in Hutson’s words, resulting in administrative paralysis for local government. Hutson’s distinction was academic, not realistic. The Flagler County Commission strongly objected and asked him to withdraw the amendment. Today, he did.
But not really.
Steube put forth an amendment of his own–to his own bill. It was virtually a word for word replica of the Hutson amendment, only broader: “It would allow local municipalities and counties to regulate the activities of vacation rentals, but that regulation,” Steube said, “applies uniformly to all residential properties without regard to whether the property is used as a vacation rental.” Hutson’s amendment would have limited the universal application of regulations to rental properties. Steube’s amendment extended it to all properties. It offers the sheen of regulatory allowances, but those allowances would be rendered impotent since local governments would never have the resources, financial or otherwise, to police such broad regulations. It would have been more accurate to term his amendment a slight rewrite of his original bill: the resulting effect would be the same.
“It would require uniformity in the application of any regulation to all residential properties regardless of whether they’re single-family homes, duplex, apartment complexes, condos, mobile homes,” Hadeed said, overwhelming the current system. Under the current program, he went on “”we only have to oversee 100 short-term vacation rentals. With Mr. Steube’s amendment, it would add an additional 6,200 residential properties.”
The committee adopted the amendment.
Numerous speakers Hutson turnstiled before the committee echoed each other, terming the Steube proposals as turning back the clock to the deregulation of 2011 ion hock to the vacation-rental industry and at the expense of local control. Speaker after speaker spoke of local ordinances in place now that work, and that would be voided by the new proposal.
Steube had come prepared to parry with challenges, but with a red herring: he asked local government representatives objecting to his bill-including Hadeed—how many “Bert Harris lawsuits” have been filed against local communities. He was referring to a state law that protects private property rights, enabling homeowners to seek relief when they claim their rights have been violated. But to call Bert Harris actions “lawsuits” is misleading: a Bert Harris action starts as simply as filing a letter with the local government, raising the issue of violated rights. It then goes to mediation, and only rarely ends up as an actual lawsuit. There are some 30 such actions in Flagler County currently, totaling $22 million in claims, but “there is no litigation,” according to Hadeed. Another local government representative told the committee that his city resolved 51 Bert Harris claims, through compromise, “and not one dime was exchanged.”
Steube still focused on the claims.
One of the committee members asked that the vote be taken at a time certain, a few minutes later, further hurrying the process. Flagler County Commissioner Greg Hansen, who had traveled to Tallahassee for the hearing and might have spoken, logged his position in opposition to the measure, as did most of those who submitted speaking cards. Jim Ulsamer, a Hammock resident and opponent of the proposed change, got a few moments before the committee not long before the vote. “If you had to live next door to one of these buildings,” Ulsamer said, “that every week there’s a new batch of people, a dozen or 24, and you don;t have the ability to regulate this activity, you would not want to live there anymore.”
It didn’t help: the committee, after no debate, voted 7-3 to approve the amended bill. Hutson’s was one of the three votes against, ostensibly signaling his willingness to battle the bill in weeks ahead.
Apparently, Mr. Hutson is no longer interested in serving his constituents. Good to know.
I listened to the proceedings – the committee sped through it, as though they had tickets for “Hamilton.” Committee members were ill-versed, asking basic questions that anyone making a decision on a bill that was this important should have knows, such as “What is Bert Harris?”
The state does NOT inspect these properties – I live in one of these communities affected by these short term rentals, have been very involved over the past several years, and there have been no state inspections. One of the staff for our “representatives” said otherwise – patently untrue. About 80% of those who weighed in were against rolling back local control. A sad day in Tallahassee.
After listening it was pretty obvious that our Senators need to be educated on this subject. Yet they voted for a bill with little knowledge on the subject.The staff member from the DBPR was incorrect stating that a one family dwelling that is license as a vacation rental is inspected. The fact is this public lodging establishment is neither inspected prior to be issuing a license to operate or after it is operating. I check the public records on inspections conducted in 2014. There was not one vacation rental inspection conducted.
The State Fire Marshal hands are tied. After speaking to the State Fire marshal he stated this dwelling is still considered a one family dwelling they can not enforce the minimum State Fire code.
Our legislature have to come to grips. These dwellings are no longer one family dwellings. They are State license public lodging establishment businesses. They use a licensing agreement to operate a transient operations. They are in the same category as a hotel, motel and bed and breakfast.
What public lodging establishment is not regulated by local counties, cities and towns? Why is a vacation rental treated differently than the rest?
Our Senators and House Representatives must keep home rule in place. Both these bills must go down in defeat. Senate bill 354 has been working just fine and must be kept in place.
Go to homerulefl.com
I wonder if Mayor Holland could be convinced to run for this Senate seat?
This is great news!!, another win for flagler county home owners!!! The last thing Palm Coast needs is more restrictions on home owners
Another reason to say goodbye to Travis the travesty
This guy needs to go he don’t care about us. Remember his name let’s send him packing VOTE HIM OUT!!!!
Ben Hogarth says
Very sad that Al was trying to educate the legislature on this issue and they simply balked at anything he said because it opposed Hutson and Steube.
We are in for some very dark times if the House keeps sending its whipping boys to the Senate every time a Senator terms out.
And to think the Senate used to be the “varsity” chamber of reason and accountability. If all we have to look forward to is more good ole boy politics then the rest of the people of Florida need not vote. The system is already gerrymandered heavily in favor of that politic.
Hutson all I can say is that when districts and fair winds change, there are others including myself who will be coming off the proverbial “benches” to run for office. Good luck selling those bogus arguments and flawed logic to those who know and understand legislation. Abandoning your amendment was a “kind” gesture to your constituents, but not everyone watching missed the cue of Steube filing similar language in its stead.
And I am assuming it was all Steube’s idea. He is Corcoran’s champion in the Senate after all right?
Let’s not vote for Judas again. He has no interest in representing us. He is merely buying campaign contributions!
Outstanding article and comments. Yes, Mr. Hutson has to go. Now, how many will run against him and then show up to vote him out?
It is patently clear here that it is NOT his district Mr. Hutson is working for.
I also watched this on tv and not only did Sen. Hutson NOT SUPPORT Flagler County, he abused and denigrated Flagler County’s speakers. We need to send him packing asap.
Wishful Thinking says
Thankfully we are still a government ‘ Of the people, by the people and FOR THE PEOPLE.Senator Hutson withdrew his amendment to the beyond insane Senate Bill 188 and also voted against it in Regulated Industries committee – now we need to keep the pressure up to make sure he does not change his mind again. Senator Hutson’s Tallahassee phone number 850-487-5007
One of our super best friends in Tallahassee is our House Rep Paul Renner . Please take a minute of your time to contact him and thank him and ask for his continued support to trash the accompanying House Bill 425 ,Please show your support and tell him , in person, how you feel about this nonsense this SATURDAY 5:30PM Hammock Community Center, 79 Mala Compra road
. His staff is very friendly. A call to his Tallahassee office would sure help: 850-7175024. e-mail: Paul[email protected]. He is very responsive to the needs of ‘we the people’
‘Residential’ land use being discussed in any committee labeled ‘ INDUSTRY’ is insane !. Ask any licensed Real Estate Agent and Realtor if you can offer to purchase a single family home, townhouse or condo and state on your purchase contract you plan to operate a short term rental BUSINESS. You will never get a residential bank loan nor would an ethical agent even submit such a wacked out offer to any seller of ‘residential’ use property. The legislators supporting both SB188 and HB425 do not belong in any legislature – in an any state -especially ‘our’ precious Florida
Someone asked if Melissa Holland might run for the seat, however, don’t forget that she and the other councilmembers agreed to give a massive raise to the already massively overpaid country manager and give him AUTOMATIC raises every year from now on, with no ability to stop it from happening. So NO, she and the other council staff would NOT be a good fit for something like this. In fact, if you want real representation for our county, you might want to rethink electing any republican into those offices.
Also, don’t forget that ‘friendly’ Renner is trying to kill off the tourist industry via getting rid of Florida’s tourist boards/ aka VisitFlorida… etc. which would seriously cause harm to our businesses and towns.
Republicans in office are turning out to be not so friendly to their constituents, local governments and businesses. It’s time for a change.
Jill Oliver says
Threatening our elected officials is really weak. I’ve owned my home here since 1985 and if given the opportunity to trade up to a larger house and be able to keep my current home to put in a vacation rental pool I would do it. What is wrong with me doing what I want with my own property? The pitchforks and torches you all have in your hands shows that we are not a real community, we don’t care about other home owners in our community and we could care less about all of the revenue that tourists bring to our area. Really, really short-sighted folks.
If anyone has a AAA membership, it advertises home rentals by the week for single family properties in the Orlando area (by the week). Flagler Beach needs to get off the cross. I own a condo in Flagler Beach. It gets inspected by the fire marshal, I pay 10% tax AND an additional garbage pickup fee that never gets picked up. The condo building area is zoned tourist commercial but those zoning rights are restricted because of the existing law.
Zillow currently lists the real estate market as “COLD” in FB regardless of the nationwide increase in prices so a property owner may not have a choice BUT TO rent his property instead turning it into a foreclosure.
Everyone is still recovering from the foreclosure crisis lest we forgot!
Encore, an area that is all-resort, advertises this house near Disney in the Orlando area: “With more than 6,400 square feet of living space, the 12-bedroom Essex is our largest home, and features a gourmet kitchen, dining room, spacious great room, 12 full baths and one half bath, a media room and covered lanai.” Source: encoreresorthomes.com.
Another quote from the site: “Encore is a wise long-term investment” – getting investors to build one of these doesn’t sound like mom and pop trying to recover from the foreclosure crisis. And this, also from the site: “vacationing groups are getting larger.” (Yup, have to agree with that!!!)
Who is running Encore?
“Vacation Rental Pros will be managing The Encore Club at Reunion, a village of 800 vacation homes within a few miles drive of the Walt Disney World Resort theme parks, according to owner Steve Milo.” (Source: Orlando Business Journal)
Below is from the VRP site about one of these houses, the “Reunion Biltmore” showing the beds:
• Bedroom 1: King
• Bedroom 2: King
• Bedroom 3: King
• Bedroom 4: King
• Bedroom 5: King
• Bedroom 6: King
• Bedroom 7: King
• Bedroom 8: Queen
• Bedroom 9: Queen
• Bedroom 10: Two Twins
• Bedroom 11: Two Twins
That is not the kind of house you would want in a community zoned single-family. That is what is being built – not the mom and pop operations the rental industry pretends is the norm. We have some 10-bedroom houses built in our community – solely for rental by non-resident investors – and managed by VRP.
THAT IS WHY WE NEED LOCAL CONTROL.
Maybe Hutson finally came to his senses and realized what Flagler County leaders are all about and doesn’t want to be part of their network or maybe Hadeed was an embarrassment and he didn’t want want to be associated. We don’t need anyone regulating when we pay for our homes.