A controversial bill proposing to all but end local regulation of vacation rentals was scheduled to be heard in a House committee Monday, only to be postponed without explanation. The postponement may signal that the proposal will once again fail to go forward, as it has despite annual attempts since 2014. Alternately, the postponement signals that House members are negotiating with Senate counterparts, where a similar bill was watered down considerably last week in favor of preserving key elements of local control.
Flagler County government has been at the vanguard–first of instigating what became the 2014 law granting counties and cities the authority to regulate their vacation rentals, which have been booming since, second of writing a regulatory ordinance that became a template for many like it across the state. The county has kept preservation of regulatory authority among its legislative priorities year after year, as the vacation rental industry has–year after year–attempted to scrap the 2014 law and “pre-empt” local control to the state. The industry has been within sight of its goal several times, only to fail at the tail end of the legislative process.
Currently, local governments may inspect vacation rentals for compliance with the Florida Building Code and fire regulations, and oversee compliance with local noise, parking and trash rules. Licensing of vacation rentals takes place locally.
There are 4,688 hotels and motels licensed in Florida, and an other 269 bed and breakfast inns, but 26,992 licenses for vacation rentals (9,031 for vacation rental condominiums, 17,934 for dwellings, and 27 for timeshares), according to a legislative analysis.
In Flagler County, based on numbers compiled by the Flagler County Tax Collecter and relayed by Tourism Director Amy Lukasik, there are currently 1,176 active short-term rental accounts that generate the tourist tax, which reflect either a property or a taxpayer.
This year’s session began with a pair of bills in the Senate and House that looked similar. The bills would have reverted regulatory control to the state’s Division of Hotels and Restaurants within the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, allowing local regulations only to the extent that the same regulations would apply to all residential homes. That clause would have the effect of nullifying any possible inspections, since its application would be realistically impossible–if not untenable, from the perspective of homeowners.
DBPR may inspect vacation rentals, but it does not do so systematically. Rather, it does so only in response to consumer complaints. (In 2019-20, the division received 1,391 such complaints and found 38 violations, according to a legislative analysis of the senate bill.)
The bills advanced through committees in the House and Senate. But on March 11 the Senate Appropriations Committee voted 13-5 to strip the Senate version of the bill (SB 522) from some of its pre-emption clauses. The version of the bill that emerged from the committee would preempt the regulation of advertising platforms of vacation rentals to the state, but it does not alter other existing local regulatory authority.
The House Ways and Means Committee was to consider the more pre-emptive bill–prohibiting local regulatory ordinances–at its meeting Monday. Committee Chairman Bobby Payne, the Palatka Republican, said the committee would “TP House Bill 219 at this time,” meaning temporarily postpone it. There were no objections. It has not been rescheduled.
It’s not just a Florida issue. The Arizona legislature is exploring vacation-rental regulations, but in reverse: the Legislature there is looking to give local governments some added powers. A bill was introduced this month in the Vermont Legislature that would combine state and local oversight. In Santa Barbara, Calif., a court case ended with a ruling asserting the city’s authority to enforce its short-term rental ordinance.