Recently it was reported by The New York Times that President Xi of China and the Communist Party, in order “To reduce the flow of outsiders to the capital, Airbnb and similar home-sharing services have been temporarily suspended.” Nothing would make the Florida hotel industry and local governments happier than if they could do the same and ban short-term vacation rentals in our state.
Since 2011, local governments and hotels have attempted to restrict or outright ban vacation rentals. Flagler County has an ordinance in place that prohibits the rental of private property for less than six months – they currently have over $22 million in Bert Harris claims as a result. Additionally, the City of Miami Beach is fining private property owners for violating their vacation rental ordinance to the tune of $20,000 a day.
In my region, you can’t rent out your property in Longboat Key for less than 30 days. Anna Maria Island has millions of dollars in Bert Harris claims from private property owners due to their vacation rental ordinance.
A recent op-ed by Carol Dover of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association (FRLA) presents an alarmist, inaccurate and unfair portrait of short-term vacation rentals that fails to acknowledge their important contribution to our local and state economies – or her organization’s self-interest in limiting them.
Large hotel chains like Hilton and Marriott, for example, pay untold amounts to FRLA and its national organization to protect their market share. Dover claims that vacation rentals are “illegal hotels” – which is absurd. Florida Statutes Section 509.242 defines “A hotel is any public lodging establishment containing sleeping room accommodations for 25 or more guests …” Most vacation rentals are privately-owned single-family homes or condos. The only difference between a vacation rental and renting out your private property under the landlord-tenant law is the length of time the occupant stays.
The fact is, travelers love the options they have with vacation rentals and the authentic experiences they enjoy staying in rented rooms, homes, apartments or condos. A recent statewide survey found that 93 percent of Floridians believe Florida travelers should be permitted to rent accommodations other than hotels – such as vacation rentals and bed and breakfasts.
An economic impact study showed that Florida’s vacation rental market had a total economic impact of $31.1 billion from an estimated 17 million vacation rental visitors in 2013. Florida’s vacation rental industry directly or indirectly supports a total of 322,032 jobs annually generating approximately $12.64 billion a year in labor income.
Although that study is four years old and was released well before companies like Airbnb and HomeAway became household names, we can only assume the economic impact has grown. For a state that relies heavily on sales tax revenue, that economic impact is significant.
As the 27th President of the United States, William Howard Taft, once so eloquently stated: “Next to the right of liberty, the right of property is the most important individual right guaranteed by the Constitution and the one which, united with that of personal liberty, has contributed more to the growth of civilization than any other institution established by the human race.”
The FRLA’s interest in this issue is not about creating a level playing field. It’s about taking away consumer choice and protecting hotel market share.
Hotels are the taxi cabs of yesteryear. When innovation and competition begin to threaten an industry, they resort to name calling and political protectionism. I see it year after year in Tallahassee. Last year it was Uber and Lyft versus taxi cabs and now it’s the national and state hotel lobby declaring war on vacation rentals.
State Sen. Greg Steube represents Senate District 23, which covers parts of Sarasota and Charlotte counties.