Island leaders push back on state rental legislation

Island officials are up in arms over new vacation rental bills filed in the Legislature.

“It’s ludicrous,” said Holmes Beach Mayor Bob Johnson. “The state has no ability to do any of that stuff effectively at all. They don’t do home inspections.”

State Sen. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, and state Rep. Mike La Rosa, R-St. Cloud, joined forces Jan. 16 on similar vacation rental legislation.

Steube’s Senate Bill 1400, now mirrored by La Rosa’s House Bill 773, aims to protect private property rights of vacation rental owners targeted by local regulations, according to the legislators.

SB 1400 would give the state the ultimate authority over vacation rental properties.

Anna Maria, Bradenton Beach and Holmes Beach have employed lobbyists to work against any further state limits on short-term rentals.

Holmes Beach Commissioner Jim Kihm, newly appointed liaison to the Legislature, said local governments could make better decisions than the Legislature when it comes to rental ordinances.

“One size doesn’t fit all,” Kihm said. “Those decisions should be made on the local level.”

A similar bill offered by Steube a year ago was defeated.

Steube claims local attempts to restrict or ban vacation rentals violate Florida law.

“It is extremely disconcerting to hear stories from my constituents and other homeowners from across the state who are being targeted by their very own local officials for choosing to rent out their homes,” said Steube in a statement. “I believe this is nothing more than an effort by the hotel industry to put an end to vacation rentals, which are a vital part of Florida’s tourism economy.”

SB 1400 would require vacation rental property owners to obtain a state license, treat vacation rentals as transient rentals regarding certain tax, landlord and tenant provisions and require the division to inspect vacation rentals in emergencies or epidemiological conditions.

“I believe that all private property owners should be treated equally, regardless of whether they choose to rent out their homes for one day, one month or one year,” stated La Rosa. “Vacation rentals reflect both an industry and a travel experience that has existed in Florida for decades — long before popular online platforms, such as Airbnb and HomeAway, even existed. Vacation rentals give property owners a chance to earn additional income while driving tourists to local businesses in the community.”

The Florida Vacation Rental Management Association, members of the Airbnb host community, and HomeAway and its homeowners went to Tallahassee to lobby Jan. 16 for SB 1400 and HB 773.

According to a 2013 economic impact study commissioned by the association, vacation rentals infused more than $31.1 billion into the state economy from an estimated 17 million visitors.

Florida’s vacation rental industry supports more than 320,000 jobs annually, generating more than $12 billion a year in income, according to Visit Florida, the state’s tourism marketing organization.

The bills would become law July 1 if passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor.

Johnson said the legislation is doomed to failure.

“I don’t know how they would implement it,” Johnson said. “They certainly won’t do it proactively. I don’t know how they would even make it work with all the variances in municipalities. We’re not the same as Sarasota or Bradenton.”