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Florida bill banning local vacation rental regulations edges closer to House floor


Focus on the Legislature

By John Haughey | The Center Square

A bill placing Florida’s $31 billion vacation-rental industry under state control, preempting local governments from imposing a “patchwork” of ordinances regulating short-term leases on private property, has advanced in the House.

House Bill 1011 shifts oversight exclusively to the state’s Department of Business & Professional Regulation (DBPR).

The bill was approved by the Government Operations & Technology Appropriations Subcommittee in an 8-5 vote Tuesday. Rep. Anthony Sabatini, R-Howey-In-The-Hills, one of three co-sponsors, said the measure is not about preemption but economic opportunity.

“It has an enormously powerful, positive fiscal impact for Floridians,” he said. “I don’t believe any bill filed this year empowers and helps the average working-class, middle-class property-owning Floridian more than this one.”

“Vacation rentals will now become the most regulated lodging sector in the state of Florida,” Florida Vacation Rental Management Association Executive Director Dennis Hanks said. “And we’re accepting that and moving forward. It’s time to put this thing to bed and have really clear, concise regulations statewide.”

A parade of speakers disagreed.

“Look to your left and look to your right,” said lobbyist Jack Corey, representing the city of Tequesta. “Ask yourself: which one of your neighbors would want to have 15 college students at 3 o’clock in the morning?”

The bill moves to the House Commerce Committee, its last stop before the House floor. The House passed a similar bill last year, but it disappeared in the Senate.

This session, however, a Senate companion, Senate Bill 1128, sponsored by Sen. Manny Diaz, R-Hialeah Gardens, has advanced through one panel and faces hearings before the Senate’s Commerce & Tourism and Rules committees.

Under the bills, homeowners advertising vacation rentals through digital sites such as Airbnb, HomeAway, VRBO and MisterB&B must secure a Vacation Rental Dwelling License from the DBPR and verify compliance quarterly. The DBPR already regulates hotels/motels statewide.

The bills seek $1.423 million to hire 19 employees to assume new responsibilities.

Rep. John Cortes, D-Kissimmee, questioned that logic.

“Why get the state involved if we have cities and counties to take care of this?” he asked. “And now you’re going to pay, what, a million and change? I just don’t see the correlation of using the state when cities and counties were taking care of the problem.”

Two members who agreed – Reps. Kimberly Daniels, D-Jacksonville, and Nick DiCeglie, R-Indian Rocks Beach – said without changes, they won’t vote for it again.

Airbnb, the world’s largest digital home-sharing platform, has lobbied aggressively for the bill for several years. In December, it added $250,000 to the $1 million it set aside in 2017 to “seed” a political action committee chaired by its Southeastern U.S. Public Policy & Government Relations Director Thomas Martinelli.

Airbnb, used by 45,000 Floridians to rent properties to 4.5 million guests in 2018, announced in January that its Florida “host community” earned $1.2 billion in supplemental income in 2019 while welcoming 6.6 million travelers.

According to real estate analytics firm Mashvisor, Celebration, in Osceola County near Disney World, recorded the world’s highest Airbnb short-term occupancy rate in 2019. Of those who used the site to rent properties, 73 percent were booked. Key West placed 10th with a 66.5 percent booking rate.

While Walt Disney Co. has not lobbied against the bill in Tallahassee, it has joined IBM, Marriott, and others in demanding Congress amend Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act of 1996.

Section 230 shields platforms from lawsuits over content posted by users. According to Disney and other hoteliers, Airbnb’s use of Section 230 in lawsuits seeking to block local ordinances regulating home-sharing platforms should be corralled by Congress.

Focus on the Legislature, The Florida Legislature, travel, Vacation


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