A person's home is his castle. Tell that to Tallahassee. Two bills moving through the Florida Legislature would give a pass to nuisance homes in some neighborhoods and violate home-rule powers of local governments to make their own decisions. State lawmakers should reject these measures, and local governments and property owners should find common ground on how to deal with Airbnb and other vacation rentals.
A House subcommittee passed a bill (HB 425) last week that bars cities and counties from passing new ordinances that restrict vacation rentals of private homes. Despite opposition from a group of beach communities across the state, including in the Tampa Bay area, the House panel backed the measure as supporters described the bill as a response to an attack on tourism and private property rights.
This is no attack on tourism, and property rights are a two-way street. Many residents in popular neighborhoods are fed up with all-night parties, excessive noise, cars blocking the streets and other impacts from some vacation rentals. With services such as Airbnb making vacation rentals of private homes more popular, residents in these same communities are suffering from mega-homes that operate as mini-hotels but masquerade as single-family homes. Some sleep more than a dozen, with people arriving at all times of the day. Not surprisingly, this has created tension and eroded the quality of life for many full-time residents, especially in beach communities in the bay area and across the state.
The Legislature pre-empted local vacation rental regulations in 2011 but narrowed the law in 2014. This bill, and a similar one (SB 188) sponsored by Sen. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, would return to the broader ban from 2011, preventing local governments from treating vacation rentals differently than any other home. A grandfather provision currently in place for ordinances enacted by June 2011 would remain.
This is an unreasonable, one-size-fits-all response to a specific problem. It is usually better to regulate businesses across the state in a uniform manner. But cities also have historically played a role by using their land-use powers to ensure that property uses in the same areas complement rather than conflict with each other. That's why communities don't allow gas stations, for example, next to single-family homes. By striking this balance, cities are protecting the property rights of both neighbors. The cities are uniquely suited to make these calls, and they have a public process for bringing all parties to the table — residents, Realtors, landlords — to fashion rules that all can tolerate. Beach residents know the value of tourism and its ability to generate income and broaden the tax base. The issue here is leveling the playing field for all.
The impacts being felt in many of these communities will not be solved by simply calling the police or code enforcement. The heavy use of these mega-homes is wholly incompatible with the neighborhoods in which many are crammed. Rather than resolve these conflicts, the bills moving forward would exacerbate them by turning a blind eye to abusive tenants and indifferent landlords and a cold shoulder to residents who have invested their time and money in their properties.
Rep. Kathleen Peters, R-Treasure Island, a former mayor of South Pasadena, is right to oppose the bill, calling the rental issue a crisis in Madeira Beach, Redington Beach and other Pinellas beach towns. More than a half-dozen trade groups and cities oppose the bill, too, including local jurisdictions in Manatee County. And Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn is right that the bill goes too far by robbing cities of their ability to govern. "This is coming from the same people who say the government that's closest to the people is the most effective," he said.
Local governments are best positioned to deal with Airbnb and other rental issues, and state legislators should quit trying to micromanage everything from Tallahassee.