I’m alarmed by two new vacation rental bills that are currently before committees in the Florida House and Senate. Senate Bill 1128 by Sen. Manny Diaz, a Republican from Hialeah, and identical House Bill 1011 by Rep. Jason Fischer, a Republican from Jacksonville, seek to give control of vacation rental licensing and inspections to the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation.
The bills don’t provide for any additional funding for this overburdened agency. Nor do they require any mandatory inspections of properties for fire safety or sanitary conditions. So far, they are just unfunded mandates that provide basic online registration so state and county governments can collect their taxes. Furthermore, they fail to provide any protections to stop vacation rentals from housing sexual predators in areas where kids live. Poorly run vacation rental businesses have often become disruptive to surrounding neighbors and the bills remove most of the remaining tools that cities have to regulate them.
Under the new legislation, all vacation rentals would be reclassified as “residential in nature, a residential use, and thus permitted in residential neighborhoods” and they go a step further by giving “constitutionally protected property rights” to those property owners who wish to use their property as a vacation rental. They provide zero rights for residents and zero local enforcement tools for cities.
Many legislators will be tempted to vote for SB 1128 and HB 1011 because on their face, the bills claim to allow cities with pre-2011 short-term rental ordinances in place to continue to enforce them. But please read the fine print dear legislator, because the granting of this type of constitutional protection and allowing reclassification may soon come back to haunt us all. It can kill all those old ordinances that your constituents dearly want to keep. And this language could be used in the future to nullify the protections of homeowners associations, too. That could be accomplished via lawsuits permitted under the Burt Harris Act. That law has been used quite enthusiastically already by investors to sue municipalities and counties that placed occupancy limits on vacation rentals. Not surprisingly, another bill has just been introduced, HB 519 by Rep. Jamie Grant, a Republican fromf Oldsmar, that seeks to extend the Burt Harris Act to make it easier for “similarly situated residential properties” (read vacation rentals) to sue en masse, not just for diminished value as in the past, but for lost income.
I’m afraid this pending legislation will soon permit vacation rentals in all residential neighborhoods statewide. My neighborhood has already been inundated by enough party houses for me to know that I do not want to live next door to one, so what are my future housing options? Are any of our legislators looking out for my rights?