Anna Maria Mayor SueLynn asks state Rep. Jim Boyd, R- Bradenton, about HB883, legislation that prohibits local governments from creating new regulations prohibiting vacation rentals based solely on their classification, use or occupancy. Islander Photo: Mark Young
State Rep. Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton, said June 27 at an Anna Maria city meeting that he doesn’t hold out a lot of hope the 2011 passage of HB883 restricting some rights by local government to regulate rental units would be repealed any time soon.
Boyd, who voted along with 93 other state representatives to pass the bill, said the 2011 debate over the measure was more about individual property rights.
Boyd said he received calls about the bill, and those he did receive were supportive of its passage.
“I had folks from this island tell me their property has been in their family for 50 years and the only way they could keep it is to let them rent it how and when they wanted,” said Boyd. “They said if they couldn’t, high property taxes and high utilities would force them to sell their family home.”
Anna Maria Mayor SueLynn said the law limits how cities deal with vacation rentals. “What that has done is tie our hands. It feels like a taking of our own home rule. It’s had a tremendous impact in Anna Maria,” she said.
SueLynn said longtime residents are moving away and neighborhoods are being lost.
“It’s decimated our quality of life,” she said.
Boyd said the only way to attempt a repeal is to create a new bill to readdress the issue, but he said that would be an uphill climb given the bill’s overwhelming support.
HB883 passed in the House 94-19, but local municipalities claim powerful backers in the development and real estate industries, who managed to get it to a vote, promoted the law.
City officials on Anna Maria Island have previously said they were unaware of the bill until after it passed.
Boyd said there are other ways to address it.
“It could be introduced in terms of an amendment, if that is the will of the community,” he said. “But there are limitations.”
SueLynn said Anna Maria, other island cities and a growing number of inland cities are gearing up to fight the bill.
Boyd said public support against the bill would be key for those representing their constituents.
“I’m an optimist by nature,” he said. “But I can just about guarantee it won’t be repealed. There might be a way to look at an individual community, and I’m happy to advance that conversation.”
Anna Maria Commissioner Gene Aubry said the statute benefits investors over residents and, during recent discussion, the city learned property owners can sue under the Bert J. Harris Jr. Act — an even worse-case scenario.
“The people really hurt by this law are the people that live here,” said Aubry. “The people doing fine are the investors. That bill is destroying every city on the waterfront.”
Aubry noted the commission then learned of the Bert Harris Act, “so if you build a box and the city tries to do something about it, the guy trying to make money has the right to sue the city.”
Boyd, who grew up on Anna Maria Island, acknowledged that investors are changing the character of the city, “in that they don’t care what the community looks like and are only interested in making money.”
Commissioner Dale Woodland said increased rentals create increased expenses for a city that now has no ability to regulate vacation units.
“We have had such an increase of visitors,” he said. “Many of them are coming to vacation rentals and hurting our infrastructure. You have totally tied our hands. The only way to deal with that increase is to raise taxes on the people who live here. That is wrong. They shouldn’t have to pay more for the damage being done by visitors.”
That sparked a conversation about the Manatee County Tourist Development Council and the restrictions placed on the TDC by state statutes that limit its funding — the collection of a tax on accommodation rentals of six months or less — to tourism-related spending.
SueLynn has been actively lobbying to attain some of the TDC funding for city infrastructure needs.
Woodland said if Anna Maria received 5 percent of its own bed tax, “we could lower taxes.”
Boyd said city officials should begin working with other agencies on trying to change how the TDC can spend its money, but that he would address the problems HB883 has created for the island.
“I will work with staff when I get back and try to work the problem,” he said.
Boyd said, otherwise, the 2013 legislative session was productive and that Democrats and Republicans worked well together in passing election reform, ethics reform and campaign finance reform.
He said the new laws would ensure Florida elections are productive and ethics reform will better hold elected officials accountable morally and financially.
“Some elected officials have outstanding fines for three, four or five years,” he said. “We are talking about a lot of money so we extended the statute of limitations from four years to 20 years. I hope that puts us in a better light to the public.”
Education, fire safety and beach renourishment funding were all things Boyd said were improved upon during the recent session.
“Everything we were able to accomplish in these areas was the right things to do for Florida,” he said.