by Christina Sandefur
Home-sharing is a longstanding tradition in the Sunshine State. The internet has enabled homeowners and travelers to connect better than ever before, seamlessly facilitating the home-sharing process. Online home-sharing platforms such as Airbnb and Homeaway help thousands of Floridians rent rooms or houses to help pay their bills. Tourism drives Florida’s economy and breeds new business opportunities for local residents. And in many Florida cities, “vacation rentals” are the properties that pay a substantial portion of the local taxes, which fill city coffers to pay for schools, emergency and community services, and infrastructure improvements.
Twenty-one percent of Florida homeowners use rental income to pay for their child’s education, 70 percent of owners use income for renovations or upgrades, and 11 percent save for retirement. According to a recent poll from Mason-Dixon, 93 percent of Floridians support home-sharing.
Yet across Florida, a growing number of cities are trying to ban short-term rentals, sticking homeowners with astronomical fines and penalties. The most extreme law was written by Miami Beach, which now imposes fines of $20,000 to $100,000 per violation on home-sharers who rent outside of a small zone where rentals are permitted, or who fail to comply with the myriad of rules within that zone.
These regulations inflict untold costs on communities, destroy opportunities for homeowners to improve their local economies by renting to people who will patronize local businesses, and punish the responsible majority of property owners for the potential wrongs of a few. They also undermine property rights.
Rather than improving the local economy and supporting homeowners who want to take a shot at the American Dream, cities across Florida are spending taxpayer money to drive away visitors and turn homeowners into outlaws.
Homeowners have had enough. This past Wednesday, they gathered in Tallahassee to demand that their state lawmakers to follow in the footsteps of other tourism-centric states like Arizona, which in 2016 passed landmark legislation, based on a model law drafted by the Goldwater Institute, that protects home-sharing statewide. Florida lawmakers can put an end to local overreach by enacting statewide protections to ensure that cities focus on their most vital jobs—including protecting quiet, clean, and safe neighborhoods—without turning into a tyranny of the majority (or minority). Bills have been introduced in both the Florida House and Senate to do just that. If lawmakers enact statewide protections for home-sharing, they can protect homeowners’ rights and obviate the need for future litigation in one fell swoop.
Local prohibitions on home-sharing are intrusive, encourage neighbors to spy on each other, and distract cities from addressing nuisance and the police from fighting actual crime. Cities should not use “local control” as an excuse to intrude on important rights like property and privacy. Here’s hoping that Florida lawmakers will listen to their constituents and take advantage of this opportunity to protect property rights and neighborhood values to give every homeowner a shot at living the American Dream.