Door could be slammed on vacation rentals plan

File photo (WJXT)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A controversial measure dealing with vacation rental properties appears doomed, as time runs out in the 2020 legislative session.

The Senate Rules Committee was scheduled to hear the bill (SB 1128) Monday, but bill sponsor Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah, said the measure was postponed because he lacked the support necessary to get it out of the committee.

The Rules Committee is not scheduled to meet again before the session ends March 13, and even if it does, it appears unlikely that Diaz’s proposal will be on the agenda.

When asked by reporters if his plan would make it to the floor for a Senate vote, Diaz was non-committal.

“It's hard to tell at this point,” he said. “This is kind of the time in session where you don't ever say for sure one way or another, because anything could happen.”

The long-running dispute over vacation rentals has pitted local government officials against advertising platforms, such as Airbnb, in what has been one of the most intensely waged legislative battles.

The plan under consideration this year would require online platforms to collect and remit taxes on the properties that advertise on their sites. The platforms would have to ensure that only properly licensed rentals are advertised and provide the state with specific information about the rentals.

In exchange, regulation would be “preempted” to the state, largely preventing local governments from regulating vacation rentals. Local governments could only regulate the rentals in the same way as other properties in neighborhoods, a restriction that cities and counties strenuously oppose.

Florida law already bans local governments from passing ordinances to outlaw vacation rentals.

Sen. Wilton Simpson, who will take over as Senate president later this year, worked behind the scenes to forge a proposal that garnered support from the advertising platforms, the Florida Realtors and even the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association, which in the past has strenuously resisted similar measures.

“Next year. That’s what they make next year for,” Simpson, R-Trilby, told The News Service of Florida when asked Monday evening about the measure’s prospects.

Airbnb Florida Policy Director Tom Martinelli said the platform remains hopeful that the issue “will be addressed legislatively to provide the vacation rental industry with uniformity and much-needed stability.” “We remain hopeful this bill will move through the process to provide the much-needed relief to Florida’s vacation rental property owners and surrounding industry,” Martinelli said in a prepared statement.

Vacation rentals have sparked backlash from some homeowners, who complain about raucous parties, parking issues and a steady stream of strangers in neighborhoods. Many of the objections come from coastal regions of the state. Cities and counties also remain firmly opposed to the House and Senate bills.

And Gov. Ron DeSantis has indicated he was not keen on the measure, saying recently he was “leaning against” the legislation.

Diaz pointed to amendments offered by senators Monday that were “counter or interfering with some of the stuff that we’re trying to do.”

“This is an incredibly complex bill that obviously had been tried for years, and you can see that every stop we've made massive changes. We're still not there with the changes that … we needed to have enough votes. So we're still working to make sure that all senators are satisfied with that bill,” he said.

Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, sponsored amendments that would have effectively gutted the bill.

“So, it became incredibly convoluted. That's why we're holding on to it for now, to try to see if we can work that out,” Diaz said.

Diaz had planned to amend his bill to bring it in line with a House proposal (HB 1011) that is awaiting a House floor vote.

DeSantis told reporters Feb. 24 he had not made up his mind but expressed strong reservations about the effort.

“We have 22 million people almost. We are a very diverse state. For us to be micromanaging vacation rentals, I am not sure that is the right thing to do,” DeSantis said.

“These are things where you’ll have kind of a quiet neighborhood,” DeSantis continued. “Then you will have someone doing this, and there are parties going on and some of the residents get upset. My view would be, probably, that should be determined locally.”

Opponents of the measure had repeatedly complained about “party houses” that wreak havoc in single-family neighborhoods.

But Diaz said he wants to address those concerns.

“Right now, it’s just regroup, have conversations with the stakeholders (and) the senators involved and try to see where we’re at,” he said.

About the Author:

Senior reporter, News Service of Florida