Editorial: Let local governments regulate short-term rentals

Jo Hammond, 57, and Flash Williamson, 59, have posted this sign in protest of single family residential homes being utilized as short-term rentals in Indian Rocks Beach.
DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times Jo Hammond, 57, and Flash Williamson, 59, have posted this sign in protest of single family residential homes being utilized as short-term rentals in Indian Rocks Beach.
Published July 9 2018
Updated July 10 2018

The Florida Legislatureís meddling in local issues has created another mess for neighborhoods across the state. No family should have to put up with a short-term rental next door that overwhelms their street with constant visitors, traffic and noise at all hours. Yet there is a legitimate property rights issue for responsible homeowners who want to occasionally rent their property, particularly in the digital age. These balancing acts are best left to local communities that can tailor regulations to their specific circumstances, and legislators should stop interfering with their one-size-fits-all approach.

As the Tampa Bay Timesí Tracey McManus reported this week, an Indian Rocks Beach couple has been tormented by a short-term rental next door that is often filled with noisy guests. Beachfront property owners are routinely renting their homes by the day or the week through digital sites such as Airbnb. But the nuisance isnít limited to Pinellas beaches, and residents in all sorts of neighborhoods are complaining about short-term rentals that are destroying the character of their communities. More than 8 out of 10 short-term rental listings online at the moment in Florida are in 15 counties, including Pinellas.

Yet the Legislatureís assault on home rule has made it virtually impossible for local governments to deal with this local issue. Donít forget that seven years ago, local governments regulated these short-term vacation rentals ó properties that are rented more than three times a year for 30 days or less. The city of Venice, for example, prohibited owners of single-family homes in residential areas from renting their homes for less than 30 days, although some vacation rentals were exempted. Then the Legislature jumped in, transferred this responsibility to the state in 2011 and banned local governments from passing new regulations. It let existing ordinances stay in place, but any changes to them killed the entire ordinance. Lawmakers opened the door a bit in 2014 to allow local governments to partially regulate vacation rentals ó but not ban them or regulate the duration or frequency of the stays. This is still too much micromanaging from Tallahassee.

Despite the explosion of complaints, too many state lawmakers keep waging an assault on home rule. Sen. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, tried to further pre-empt local regulations of short-term rentals this year. Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, says property rights remain an issue and suggests he would support changing state law to require minimum rental stays of 14 days. That could be one approach, but is that the best fit for every neighborhood in the state?

Everything the Legislature touches is not an unfair invasion of local governmentsí turf. For example, it made sense for the state to establish common regulations for ridesharing operations such as Uber, because drivers frequently cross local boundaries and passengers should be just as safe in Tampa as they are in Clearwater. But short-term vacation rentals are stationary, and the circumstances vary from community to community. What seems reasonable in St. Pete Beach might be different than in Pasco County. Thatís why this should be left to local governments to sort out whatís best for their neighborhoods.

Short-term rentals are an issue for cities and counties, not state government. The Legislature perhaps should set some reasonable parameters, but it should give back to local governments the ability to adopt regulations for short-term rentals that are tailored to their communities.