St. Augustine commissioners approve vacation rental regulations

St. Johns County also looking at similar move, but local governments could run into roadblock in Florida Legislature

Local governments looking to regulate the local market for vacation, rental homes.

ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – As vacation rentals become increasingly popular with the advent of Airbnb, the St. Augustine City Commission on Monday night voted unanimously in favor of short-term rental regulations.

St. Johns County is also looking at a similar move, but local governments looking to regulate short-term rentals could run into a roadblock in the Florida Legislature.

The new vacation rental rules passed by St. Augustine commissioners include limiting the number of people who can stay in short-term rentals to 12 and requirements for parking and safety equipment. Owners will also need to register their short-term rental property with the City of St. Augustine.

Some St. Augustine property owners who make revenue from Airbnbs said they were a little unhappy with the decision.

“It helps pay taxes. It helps pay expenses,” said St. Augustine resident Gene Griffin, who supplements his income by renting out part of his home. “It gives a lot of people a cheaper option that’s just as nice as going to a hotel.”

Griffin said he feels Airbnbs are being unfairly targeted with burdensome regulations.

“Everything is being pushed off on Airbnb,” he said. “A lot of people are surviving because of it.”

But others understand the need for regulations. Jocelyn Fastner just moved to St. Augustine from Minnesota and is looking to purchase an investment house she would convert to an Airbnb. She said there are hurdles, but she understands the need for them.

“It does make it a little difficult as investors,” Fastner said. “There’s only so many passes at the beach if you want to buy a short-term rental and, here, you have to do it in a very specific area. So, it makes it a little more complicated. But it’s also good because people have to live here. So that’s why they do it, I assume."

In addition to the city of St. Augustine, St. Johns County is considering similar restrictions. On Wednesday, St. Johns County will host a public workshop about the regulation of short-term vacation rentals. The public will have an opportunity to provide feedback on two draft ordinances that will be presented to the St. Johns County Board of County Commissioners for consideration. The ordinances would regulate vacation rental registration, occupancy, parking, trash pickup, inspections, and violations and penalties for noncompliance. Wednesday’s meeting will begin at 3:30 p.m. at the St. Johns County Administrative Auditorium on San Sebastian View.

But the local governments could run into a roadblock in Tallahassee. A Florida Senate committee on Jan. 13 approved a proposal that would take away power from cities and counties to regulate vacation rental properties. The bill (SB 1128), sponsored by state Sen. Manny Diaz Jr., R-Hialeah, that would “preempt” regulation of vacation rentals to the state. State Rep. Jason Fischer, R-Jacksonville, has filed a House version of the bill (HB 1011).

Now residents are left to wonder whether local governments should be able to regulate the commercialization of homes in their community.

“You don’t want to have something not being taken care of or respected,” said Jared Bastin, who rents a home in St. Augustine. “However, I’m for however many people want to live in a space if they’re respectful of the space."

And it’s not just a hot button issue in St. Johns County. Other local communities in Northeast Florida have raised concerns about the proposed legislation in Tallahassee. Orange Park recently enacted regulations on short-term rentals and local officials have made it clear they oppose the state overriding local governments.

About the Authors:

Scott is a multi-Emmy Award Winning Anchor and Reporter, who also hosts the “Going Ringside With The Local Station” Podcast. Scott has been a journalist for 25 years, covering stories including six presidential elections, multiple space shuttle launches and dozens of high-profile murder trials.