by Christina Sandefur

Home-sharing is as Floridian as orange juice—it’s a longstanding tradition in the Sunshine State. 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.

Unfortunately, the city of Miami Beach has been cracking down homeowners’ property rights by imposing steep penalties for home-sharing—the very practice that makes a vacation in sunny South Florida possible for travelers from around the world. Miami Beach is home to some of the most extreme anti-home-sharing rules in the country. The city imposes fines of up to $100,000 per violation on home-sharers who rent outside of a narrow zone where rentals are allowed.

The Florida Constitution protects people from excessive fines that are “grossly disproportional” to the person’s action. For many of these homeowners who have rented responsibly for years, these fines make up a large percentage of their home’s actual worth. If $100,000 is not “excessive,” it’s hard to say what is. Florida state law also caps the fines that cities like Miami Beach can levy at $1,000 for first offenders. Miami Beach’s new home-sharing fines—which start at $20,000 (and can’t be reduced by a city official)—far exceed that. Miami Beach imposes fines that are illegal under the state cap, in addition to being unconstitutional.

These fines threaten responsible homeowners like Natalie Nichols, a longtime Miami Beach resident who has owned her two rental properties, which border the picturesque Biscayne Bay, for over a decade. One is a single-family home that Natalie sometimes occupies and sometimes rents. The other is a “four-plex,” which is a building with the architecture of a single-family home, but which actually contains four small apartments that are individually occupied. The four-plex was built over 50 years ago for exactly the kind of use Natalie put it to: accommodating short-term rentals. Natalie used income from short-term rentals to weather the economic downturn of 2008, a time when many people around her were forced to sell. Yet now, thanks to Miami Beach’s anti-home-sharing laws, Natalie can’t rent her home without being subject to tens—and even hundreds—of thousands of dollars in fines.

That’s why the Goldwater Institute is taking the city to court—to defend the rights of Natalie and other Miami Beach home-sharers.

No one wants to live next to a nuisance. But cities already have rules on the books that protect quiet, clean, and safe neighborhoods. They should enforce those rules rather than limiting choices, hindering the city’s tourism industry, and depriving people of the rights—and the incentives—to use their property and speak as they see fit.

Click here to learn more about the Goldwater Institute’s fight to defend home-sharing coast-to-coast.

Christina Sandefur is the executive vice president of the Goldwater Institute.