Island municipalities that find controls of vacation rentals limited by the state might be headed back to the driver’s seat.
Under legislation proposed in late October by state Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, House Bill 883 would be repealed, allowing local governments to impose restrictions on vacation rentals in residential areas.
Thrasher, who is chair of the Senate Rules Committee, proposed repealing what is commonly called HB 883, which was passed by the legislature in 2011.
The bill assured Florida property owners could rent their home, and limited local governments from enacting new ordinances to govern residential rentals. Those regulations that existed on July 1, 2011, remained enforceable, but no new regulations were allowed and any further limits were cause for losing existing regulations.
The repeal would allow local governments to have control over vacation rentals, according to a spokesperson in Thrasher’s St. Augustine office who said he was not allowed to provide his name.
But Anna Maria Island governments shouldn’t get their hopes up that the Legislature will act quickly when its March 2014 session begins.
“This is only phase one, the first step in a long process,” Thrasher’s representative said.
“It’s now in draft form and has to go to committee, then return to the Senate. If the Senate approves it, the bill then goes to the house for the same process,” he said.
State Rep. Travis Hutson, R-Elkton, is proposing a similar bill in the house.
The two bills may eventually be merged.
While some residents and elected officials on Anna Maria Island have bemoaned the ramifications of HB 883 on neighborhoods, Thrasher decided to bring his bill forward after listening to a litany of complaints from the public at a legislative delegation meeting in Daytona Beach in mid-October.
Thrasher said he heard stories from residents living adjacent to what are being called “party rentals.”
One constituent told Thrasher that an unintended consequence of HB 883 was that too many people rent and stay in one vacation home at the same time. Local governments were powerless to regulate the overuse.
Jan Cullihane of Ocean Hammock said at that meeting that she lives adjacent to a house that has been rented on weekends with sometimes up to 28 people in the house at one time.
“If this is happening, it is something we in the legislature have to look at,” Thrasher told Cullihane.
Cullihane said she and other Ocean Hammock residents were not against renters who rented and abided by local rules.
“Are we against renters? No,” Cullihane told Thrasher.
What she and others are against is investors building mini-hotels. She said one investor owns 16 vacation rental condominiums in her community and there is no ordinance to limit occupancy.
Thrasher said he raised the issue of looking at the unintended consequences of HB 883 and finding a solution at last year’s legislative session, but the effort did not take off.
“I really think we made a mistake when we passed this law,” Thrasher said. “I’m going to look into changing it.”
But Steve Milo, owner of Vacation Rental Properties in Volusia County, weighed in on the other side of the issue. Out-of-state property owners also have rights, he said. “We are willing and ready to come to mediation.”
Anna Maria Mayor SueLynn was pleased to hear Thrasher proposed a repeal bill.
The city fielded some complaints in the past about loud parties and vacation homes that advertise accommodations for 20-plus people. But cooperation with property managers and the implementation of “best rental practices,” including instructions for renters, has stemmed all but a few complaints and no citations have been issued since the policy took effect.
The city has no ordinance, however, controlling the number of bedrooms in a residence or the number of people allowed to occupy a vacation rental home, SueLynn noted.
“I don’t know all the particulars and I want to look at those,” the mayor said of Thrasher’s repeal. “But at least it’s a start toward a compromise solution.”
She added she thought Thrasher would only seek to repeal section 7(b) of the bill, which took away the local government’s ability to legislate vacation rentals in residential areas.
“But HB 883 was an egregious taking of our home rule,” the mayor said.
Thrasher agreed, noting the bill was passed at a time when the economy was down and it “sounded like the fair thing to do.”
SueLynn said she would survey city businesses to determine the economic impact of weekend renters who come from Tampa and Lakeland for just a few days.
“I want to know if they patronize local businesses, or just bring everything with them,” she said.
“And I applaud Thrasher’s effort,” the mayor said.
Help from the Florida Legislature to return control of vacation rentals in residential zones to local governments is better than Anna Maria filing a court action for a judicial review to see if its hotel/motel ordinance governs home rentals, the mayor said.
The commission rejected that action in a 3-2 vote Oct. 24.
SueLynn said she is not concerned with the majority of vacation renters who just want a quiet, peaceful vacation in Anna Maria.
“It’s the party people who cause the problems,” she said.
“It will be a great day for Anna Maria and all the island cities when we can control the number of people who can stay in one rental.”
State Sen. Bill Galvano’s office said he is supportive of Thrasher’s effort to find a compromise solution and would look into the particulars of Thrasher’s proposed repeal.
Some material for this article was provided with permission by the Daytona Beach News-Journal.