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Should vacation rentals be regulated by local government? House bill says no way.

By Steve Bousquet
“Individuals’ private property rights have been violated.” Rep. Mike La Rosa, R-St. Cloud, sponsor of HB 425

TALLAHASSEE — Despite opposition from a group of beach communities across the state, a Florida House subcommittee on Tuesday passed a bill that prevents cities and counties from passing new ordinances that restrict vacation rentals of private homes.

The 9-to-6 vote by a House subcommittee sends the measure to the 30-member Commerce Committee, which is top heavy with lawmakers from South Florida, where opposition to short-term vacation rentals has been intense, and five lawmakers from Tampa Bay.

The bill (HB 425), sponsored by Rep. Mike La Rosa, R-St. Cloud, prevents local governments from imposing new restrictions on vacation homes. Local ordinances that were in effect on June 1, 2011, could remain, but restrictions adopted after that date, including laws based on a 2014 legislative compromise, would be declared "void and unenforceable" by the state and wiped off the books.

"This industry has been under attack," La Rosa testified. "Individuals' private property rights have been violated."

La Rosa noted that homeowners have filed claims for damages under a state property rights law known as the Bert Harris Act. He also cited a Miami Beach ordinance that imposes fines of up to $20,000 for violations.

But what La Rosa calls property rights, cities and counties defend as their home rule power to safeguard public safety and protect property values. They cited cases of all-night parties, excessive noise, parking problems and other quality-of-life issues that have become increasingly problematic as home-sharing platforms such as Airbnb have become more popular.

"We are being inundated with calls from our residential neighborhoods who are complaining about these short-term rentals which are essentially businesses," said Kerri McNulty, an assistant city attorney for Miami. "We need to be able to regulate them."

The parade of bill opponents included the Florida Association of Counties, Florida League of Cities, Flagler County, the Greater Miami and the Beaches Hotel Associations, and the cities of Bradenton Beach, Daytona Beach, Holmes Beach and Lake Worth.

Supporters of the bill included the Florida Association of Realtors, Florida Chamber of Commerce, Americans for Prosperity and HomeAway, a nationwide online vacation booking platform seeking to expand its market in Florida, one of the world's hottest tourist destinations.

One of the strongest supporters of the bill was Marcie Mascaro, who drove to Tallahassee from Miami. She said she has hosted hundreds of guests in her home and has never had a nuisance complaint.

"Hosts like me want legitimacy," Mascaro said.

Three Republicans voted against the bill Tuesday, all of them in areas of growing tension between residents and rentals: Reps. Larry Ahern of Seminole, Paul Renner of Palm Coast and Randy Fine of Palm Bay.

The bill's next and final stop before the House floor will be the Commerce Committee chaired by Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, R-Miami. It includes four other members from Miami-Dade, four from Broward and five Tampa Bay lawmakers: Democrat Sean Shaw and Republicans Jamie Grant, Jackie Toledo, Blaise Ingoglia and Kathleen Peters.

Peters, of Treasure Island, represents a group of North Pinellas coastal communities and is an ardent supporter of the cities. She says she would be voted out of office if she supported La Rosa's bill. A similar bill in the Senate has two more committee stops.

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, a Democrat, said the rentals bill goes too far.

"It's an all-out assault on local government and our ability to self-govern," Buckhorn said, "and this is coming from the same people who say the government that's closest to the people is most effective. That would be us."

Contact Steve Bousquet at [email protected] Follow @stevebousquet.