Balanced Florida state legislation on vacation home rentals

Restore some authority to local governments

February 26, 2014 

The Legislature should steer a middle course on a measure designed to repair the damage inflicted on popular destinations with the 2011 law that prohibited local governments from regulating vacation rental homes.

That law allowed some grandfathered exceptions, but residential neighborhoods on Anna Maria Island suffered from noise, garbage and parking issues that rental homes brought. Local ordinances already apply to those problems, however, and the island municipalities have been working to restore order.

Meanwhile, other issues still bring chaos.

Influential state Sen. John Thrasher, R-Augustine, expressed optimism for a balanced bill coming out of the legislative session that begins next week, the Herald's Sara Kennedy reported on Feb. 22.

His Senate bill, SB 356, returns some regulatory control to local governments over vacation home rentals based only on occupancy, classification and use.

The measure would not put owners of vacation rental homes out of business, which would have a devastating economic impact on Anna Maria Island and elsewhere.

Repeal of the 2011 law is not on the table, and rightly so -- out of fears that some communities would establish outright bans on home rentals and self-destruct.

Tourism is Manatee County's lifeblood, an industry that continues to set records in visitor counts, business income and tax revenue. The pendulum cannot swing back to complete control by local governments.

Bradenton Sen. Bill Galvano supports a modification in Thrasher's still evolving bill that allows something that brings more fairness in the competition between vacation rental homes and resorts and hotels -- a seven-night minimum stay in homes. Overnight or weekend home rentals basically create hotels in residential neighborhoods.

At the same time, the idea of a 30-day minimum stay in those homes is unrealistic and unreasonable. That would be ruinous, too, since few families can afford such lengthy vacations, leaving reservations likely in the hands of the wealthy and retired.

Many mom and pop homeowners who rent seasonally depend on the income to pay property taxes, insurance and more, else they be forced to sell and move. The private property rights of investors should be a consideration, too, with everyone operating under sensible rules.

Occupancy is another issue that should be addressed, as Thrasher indicates in his bill and in an October Herald report: "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."

Indeed.

With all the angst over the proliferation of vacation rental homes during the past few years, especially in Holmes Beach, Anna Maria and Bradenton Beach, local governments should be able to establish some restrictions that are not too heavy-handed. The rights of property owners should be balanced with the rights of residents.

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