Florida lawmakers giving 'good support' to vacation rental bills, sponsor says

skennedy@bradenton.comFebruary 22, 2014 

MANATEE -- A powerful Florida state senator whose bill would restore regulatory power over vacation rentals to local governments says his measure has drawn "good support" so far from lawmakers.

"Certainly in the Senate and in the House, I'm optimistic we'll find a positive solution," said state Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, during a telephone interview Friday

with the Herald.

He hopes for a balance allowing a return of some regulation to local governments that would not put owners of vacation rental homes out of business. His bill, Senate Bill 356, calls for deleting restrictions that prevent local governments from regulating vacation rentals, based solely on their classification, use or occupancy, according to the bill's summary.

It would reverse a 2011 law that stripped local governments of their ability to regulate such properties.

In the Senate, two committees have already approved it, as the Florida Legislature prepares to convene March 4.

Thrasher, who is chairman of the chamber's influential Rules Committee, said he expects something positive for those like Manatee County officials, who have complained that vacation rental homes have become a nuisance in residential neighborhoods.

But Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, hopes to convince Thrasher to modify his bill somewhat, perhaps to require something like a seven-day minimum rental period for those staying at such facilities.

"My concern for the rental and business community is that, if it goes completely back to where it was, there may be an ordinance passed that would require a minimum stay of 30 days," said Galvano. "Then people would just not be able to rent their properties.

"My concern on other side is, why should the state be telling local governments how to regulate property within their jurisdiction? It's a local control issue," Galvano added.

He, too, hopes for a "balanced compromise" that would preserve economic opportunity for those who have invested in vacation rentals, but also prevent short-term weekend "hotel-like" stays, he said.

Manatee County and the Florida League of Cities, representing 410 municipalities across the state, favor restoring power to local governments. Opponents include organizations representing vacation rental managers and owners.

A statement from Paul Hayes, president of the Florida Vacation Rental Managers Association, noted that Florida leads the nation as the No. 1 vacation rental state.

"The tens of thousands of owners who have vacation rental properties are creating jobs and bringing revenue by attracting visitors to every region of the state," wrote Hayes.

"Unfortunately, SB 356 in the Florida Senate and House companion HB 307 are risking these jobs and threatening the property rights of owners by allowing the ban of vacation rentals," he wrote.

He asked Gov. Rick Scott and lawmakers to "stand up for the men and women who have helped grow an important part of our tourism economy," and reject legislation that would ban vacation rentals or violate the property rights of business owners.

In 2011, lawmakers passed HB 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. 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, to the dismay of its neighbors.

Steube said he recently voted against an early version of Thrasher's bill in a pre-session meeting of a House committee because it called for a "full repeal" of the 2011 law, which he thought went too far.

"I just think we have a legitimate need to balance local government's needs to regulate, and private property owners' right to enjoy their property," said Steube. "I didn't think the bill did that."

A House sponsor of a companion measure to Thrasher's bill, Travis Hutson, R-Palm Coast, assured Steube a compromise was in the works.

"The intention would be to say no local government would be able to restrict the number of overnights," in a vacation rental, Steube said.

The bill in its current form "greatly affected individuals' property rights, and I think it needs to be considered," Steube said.

"One of the biggest drivers of the economy on Anna Maria Island is tourism," continued Steube. "I want to be very cautious with something negatively affecting the tourism industry."

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

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