Residents of many Pinellas County beach communities have spent the past decade demanding that their elected officials do something to stem the spread, or at least soften the impact, of vacation rentals in their neighborhoods.
Those officials have to walk a fine line — not just with constituents on both sides of the conflict, but with state law, which preempts them from creating new rental bans or limits on frequency or duration of stays.
Now, the Republican lawmaker who represents many of those communities in the Florida Senate is proposing legislation that would impose more limits on what local governments can do.
The bill, filed by Indian Rocks Beach Republican Nick DiCeglie, focuses in part on what local governments can tell rental operators to do to get and stay registered with their city, town or county. Local governments could still require registration and set conditions, but they would be hemmed in by state law.
Registration fees would be capped at $50 for a single application, for example, well below where some cities have them set. Cities could still set rules about parking and trash, but those rules couldn’t be any different from the ones permanent residents have to obey. And the allowances laid out in the bill, it says, would be the “only” registration-related rules local governments could set.
Randy Mora, the city attorney for Indian Rocks Beach, which has been considering a $400 registration fee, said the bill shows just how hard it’s been for cities to pin down their powers since the Legislature set its first preemptions in 2011.
“The solutions continue to become more imperfect,” he said. “Each time the local communities tend to adapt, the landscape seems to change.”
The pandemic and the Florida real estate boom heightened the tensions between anti-rental residents and those who do business through services such as Airbnb and VRBO. It’s against this backdrop that DiCeglie’s bill heads to its first hearing Tuesday, in the Senate’s Regulated Industries Committee.
A companion bill has been filed in the state House of Representatives, but the Senate “is going to be driving the train on this,” said Tara Taggart, a Florida League of Cities lobbyist. “They seem to want this bill more than the House does.”
DiCeglie, a former state representative who won his first state Senate term last year, didn’t respond to requests for comment via phone and text message for this story.
The League of Cities neither opposes nor endorses the bill. It would standardize regulations that many cities are already pursuing. And it shows that legislators no longer seek to strip local governments’ regulatory powers entirely when it comes to short-term rentals. But Taggart said she hopes that if the bill passes, lawmakers will strip some of the one-size-fits-all aspects and add more options.
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Many complaints about disruptive rentals “boil down to having too many people in one house,” she said. “We’d like to see room for local governments to have (occupancy limits) as part of their standard, or we would be OK with the state having one.”
Redington Beach Mayor David Will, whose city has passed an ordinance that includes restrictions on occupancy and is in the midst of a court battle over whether it can apply a 2008 ban on short-term rentals, said the bill represents an attack on cities’ home-rule powers. Though Will, like DiCeglie, is a Republican, preserving a town’s quality of life “is not a partisan issue,” he said in an email. “It is one which every elected official, from any party, at any level of government should strive every day to do.”
The battle has divided some communities, such as Indian Rock Beach, where some permanent residents say the rentals are ruining their sense of home and owners say they’re key contributors to the local economy. It’s driven heated workshops and passionate public hearings. Mora said residents may not realize how limited their local elected officials’ powers are in this realm.
“If (lawmakers) say you can’t do five of the seven things you did or one of the eight, whatever it is, that’s who’s in charge,” he said. “And that’s where the feedback is best placed.”