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Longboat Key Thursday, Jan. 23, 2020 6 months ago

Town lobbies against state legislation on short-term rentals

Bills focus on constitutional rights of property owners; mayor's letter notes possibility of 'mini-hotels.'
by: Eric Garwood Managing Editor

Town officials are lobbying Tallahassee lawmakers to derail a new challenge to local governments’ authority to regulate short-term rentals.

A bill filed by Republican Sen. Manny Diaz of Hialeah passed out of the Innovation, Industry and Technology Committee last week with an 8-2 vote and heads next for the Commerce and Tourism Committee, chaired by Sarasota Republican Joe Gruters.  A companion bill in the House, filed by Republican Rep. Jason Fischer, has been referred to committee but has not yet been voted upon.

The state legislature opened its 60-day session on Jan. 13.

The bills seek to pre-empt local, short-term rental rules established after 2011 and forbid the creation of new ones. The new legislation would replace existing rules that set the grandfathering threshold at 2014 and allow communities to regulate short-term rentals up to the point of banning them outright or limiting the lengths for frequencies of tenants’ stays.

The reasoning behind both the House and Senate versions is a nod toward rights of property owners. The issue of local control of rentals has come up before, most recently in 2017 when Sen. Greg Steube filed a similar bill. 

“Property owners who choose to use their property as a vacation rental have constitutionally protected property rights,” a portion of the  legislation reads. Among the bills’ provisions are requirements for the display of rental licenses, and information on tourist tax and sales tax.

Longboat Key, as Town Attorney Maggie Mooney stated last summer in seeking permission to sue a property owner with thousands of dollars in fines, holds its short-term rental rules “sacrosanct.’’ Established in 1995, local rules forbid rentals of less than 30 days in residentially zoned neighborhoods. The town has 46 grandfathered tourism properties, places that are allowed to have tenants for fewer than 30 days, because they offered tourism uses before the town passed its prohibition. Also, condominium associations often have their own regulations on short-term rentals.

Mooney said even though the town's current rules would be unaffected by passage of the bill, modifications or updates to the local regulations would reset the effective date, subjecting the town to whatever statewide laws are passed. 

 "This proposed law takes that authority from local governments and  gives the regulatory authority (right to license and inspect) to a state agency that is currently ineffective in performing its delegated duties,'' she wrote in an email seeking comment.

In a letter to Gruters, Mayor George Spoll urged the defeat of the bill, writing “Local governments need to be able to regulate and address the consequences that occur when residential homes are transformed by the short-term rental industry into mini-hotels.’’

“Among the complaints the town’s residents have shared include reports that short-term occupants are often inconsiderate of the peace and tranquility of surrounding residential property owners: they are unaware of local land-use regulations (i.e., sound, parking and refuse regulations); and their occupancy and use of single-family residences is more akin to a “frat house’’ or mini-hotel,’’ the mayor wrote.

Statewide, the Florida League of Cities is also opposed to the bills, which are supported by such vacation-rental sites as AirBNB and VRBO. Gail Loeffler, the administrative coordinator for the ManaSota League of Cities, sent an email to members in the two-county area last week, urging messages be sent to Gruters, members of his committee and their aides.

Mooney said towns that did not have short-term rental rules in place before 2011 "have had to adopt regulations that address the impacts from or nuisance conditions that can be created by short-term rentals to protect their residential neighborhoods and existing residents who feel like they live next door to “mini-hotels”.

 Last summer, the town sued and ultimately settled with the owner of a home in Country Club Shores that racked up more than $6,000 in fines over violations of the town’s rental rules. 

John Long, managing member of Equity Villa Fund LLC, agreed to pay the town $3,640 and court costs to settle a lawsuit that sought to force the property owner of the home on Schooner Lane to cease and desist. The home is now on the market, listed for sale at $1,099,000.

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