The sponsor of a bill to pre-empt local government regulation of vacation rental homes was approved by a House appropriations subcommittee April 1 after its sponsor state Rep. James Grant promised there would be some significant changes before the next stop.
Grant, a Republican from Oldsmar, assured the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Government Operations and Technology that he intends to make major changes to the bill to give the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation authority to oversee vacation rentals, particularly to enforce rules against “bad actors.”
With that, despite much of the opposition that had helped kill similar vacation rental bills in recent years, from local governments, hotel interests, and others, the panel voted with a split vote to move the bill along to the Commerce Committee. House Bill 987, as written, would eliminate existing city and county ordinances that would specifically regulate, limit or prohibit people from renting out homes as short-term vacation rentals.
(Orange Park Town Council acknowledge the lack of state guidelines during its March 5 meeting, saying it essentially was powerless to create any regulations.)
“There will be significant policy work done on this package,” Grant told the committee, pointing out that such changes will have to be brought to a policy committee. “It is a complex and complicated issue … There are things that I do not like in the bill. There are things that other stakeholders do not like in the bill.”
Particularly, Grant said he wants to see the provisions in HB 987 that would eliminate grandfathered local ordinances and regulations revisited, and that he is talking with DBPR Secretary Halsey Beshears about ways that department could address “bad actors” in the vacation rental business, and that he would have the resources to do so.
Grant expressed frustration that opponents have talked about all the grandfathered ordinances that would be invalidated, yet that no one has offered them to him or anyone else to review, and he urged stakeholders to bring them forth and come to the table to talk about them.
Yet Grant remained emphatic about the goals of the bill: deregulating vacation rentals at the local level, supporting property rights of vacation rental homeowners, and supporting the rising economy of individual rentals being marketed worldwide through such platforms as Airbnb and HomeAway.
The platforms have enabled individual houses or condominium units to become competitors with hotels, motels, and traditional bed-and-breakfasts, which have been pushing for regulation that could at least hold them accountable for safety and sanitation rules the traditional lodging establishments face. Similar arguments had emerged from taxicab companies in the face of platform-driven Uber and Lyft businesses, and now also from rental car companies in the rise of individual car rental platforms like Turo.
“The notion of tech-enabled services is an issue that we as legislators cannot hide from. And so there have been attempts to try to define what a platform is … and start regulating inside all of these different industries, rather than simply understanding that tech-enabled services are not only a massive portion of the economy of tomorrow, they are an increasing portion of the economy of today,” Grant said. “We can protect the entrenched stakeholder, or we can allow for innovation.”
That nonetheless still brings the complaints and concerns of local governments that houses or condos here or there becoming vacation rentals have at least occasionally led to profound disruptions in neighborhoods and municipalities, with horror stories ranging from out-of-control parties to porn-movie filming.
Grant argued that if the same complaints keep coming up since the Florida Legislature first began restricting and trying to eliminate local regulations in 2012, it suggests to him that the local governments are failing at controlling them anyway. And he argued that most, if not all, of the complaints should and could be addressed through normal local laws about such problems as noise, drinking, drugs, parking or other troublesome behaviors.
On Monday, lobbyists for homeowners associations and condo associations groups added the concern that, contrary to Grant’s assurances, they are convinced that the bill also could bring challenges to HOA and condo association restrictions against vacation rentals.
Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.