Florida senator to try fix of vacation rental rules

skennedy@bradenton.comOctober 27, 2013 

MANATEE -- Legislation is in the works that would return control of vacation rental properties to local communities, reversing a bill passed in 2011 that stripped local governments of their ability to regulate such properties.

"It's pre-empted local government from having any kind of regulation or control over the number of people," said John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine.

"The whole idea that you could have 24 or so people in a particular home in a residential neighborhood kind of spoils the whole concept of a residential neighborhood," said Thrasher, the influential chairman of the state senate Rules Committee.

Thrasher plans to file a bill to "let local governments make those decisions, as opposed to the state pre-empting it," he told the Bradenton Herald on Friday.

Among supporters of such a bill are Manatee County and the Florida League of Cities, representing 410 mu

nicipalities across the state. Possible opponents might include organizations representing vacation rental managers and owners, and Florida Realtors.

In 2011, lawmakers passed H.B. 883, which forbade local governments from "regulating, restricting or prohibiting" vacation rentals, with some grandfathered exceptions.

The bill passed 94-19 in the Florida House, with members of Manatee County's delegation, state Reps. Jim Boyd and Greg Steube, both R-Bradenton, voting in favor.

It passed 38-0 in the Senate, with then-state Sen. Mike Bennett, R-Bradenton, voting in favor, along with Thrasher. (Bennett is now the Manatee County supervisor of elections).

Trouble in paradise

After its passage, giant duplexes began sprouting on single lots in Holmes Beach, where overnight guests partied until the wee hours, jammed cars into quiet side streets, and left great swaths of trash and litter behind.

Even along Bradenton's wealthy Riverview Boulevard overlooking the Manatee River, at least one mansion was rented out on a weekly basis, according to an e-mail sent to county commissioners. Neighbors called the sheriff's office repeatedly to halt late-night noise there and endured wayward trash, it said.

"It takes away Home Rule rights from municipalities and counties, and restricts them from making changes to regulations of rental properties in their communities," complained Manatee County Commissioner John Chappie.

"We have homes along Riverview Boulevard, beautiful locations, that can be rented out as party homes," said Chappie. "That's not what we want; the residential areas in Manatee County need to be protected."

The problem extends statewide, said Holmes Beach City Commissioner Jean Peelen. She and Anna Maria Mayor SueLynn have mounted a grassroots lobbying effort for a suitable fix.

They have urged officials at organizations like the Florida League of Cities to give such changes a high priority during the 2014 legislative session, which convenes March 4.

Although the league has yet to finalize its priorities, chances are it would be happy to see local control restored, said Scott Dudley, league legislative director.

"We opposed the bill when they took away the authority, and we would certainly support any way to give it back to us," he said. "The residents that live in those communities should have some say in it, cities should be able to regulate it, and it should not be dictated by Tallahassee.

"We look forward to working with Sen. Thrasher," he added.

Trey Price, public policy representative for Florida Realtors, whose organization favored the 2011 law, said he has already contacted Thrasher about the subject.

"During the last 24 hours, we let them know we're interested in being part of the conversation, and we'd want to be part of those discussions," Price said Friday.

Delicate balance

His organization was not the primary proponent of the law, he recalled, but he said its passage stemmed from homeowners' concerns about their rights to rent their property.

"I think the legislation came as a result of perceived overregulation by local governments of peoples' right to rent their property," he added.

An amendment last year that would have restored local control was proposed, but eventually withdrawn, by state Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton.

"The people who own vacation rentals want to make sure there is an opportunity to earn money off them without interference from local government," said Galvano.

"The problem is, there seems to be a lot of abuse."

He recalled a town meeting with residents of Anna Maria Island, who were dismayed about the inability of their local governments to do anything about such abuses, he said.

What makes the situation more difficult is it requires a balance between residents and visitors, who spur the economy, Galvano noted.

"That's when it becomes tough," he said.

Galvano joined a growing club looking forward to working with Thrasher next year.

As to the chances of Thrasher's bill succeeding, he was making no bets.

"There are a million vacation rentals in Florida, I'm told," he said. "The lobby (against it) will be big, I'm sure.

"Hopefully, maybe, we'll find some way to work out a reasonable compromise; there ought to be local input in how the vacation rentals are utilized."

Sara Kennedy, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7031. Follow her on Twitter @sarawrites.

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