April 28, 2020
By Matt Miller
Do Florida’s hotels deserve better treatment than property owners? Because during the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak, that’s exactly what they’re getting.
During April, Gov. Ron DeSantis issued, and then extended, his executive order that singles out short-term rentals for government-mandated closure until April 30. The order claims this closure is necessary to reduce the possibility that out-of-state coronavirus carriers might be tempted to shelter in Florida (medical personnel and certain other guests are exempted).
As the state begins to reopen, short-term rentals should be among the first businesses to get the green light. Continuing to ban them may continue to do more harm than good.
First, the exemptions in the order are numerous enough to entirely undermine its stated purpose of reducing housing for out-of-staters fleeing to Florida. The order allows “hotels, motels, inns, resorts, non-transient public lodging establishments, and time-share projects” to remain open. Thus, under the order, you still can find plenty of places to stay in Florida – after all, the lodging industry is reporting record vacancy these days. But you’re prohibited from staying in a short-term rental.
But given what the government has told us about how coronavirus spreads, short-term rentals likely are safer in terms of protecting public health than other lodging establishments because short-term rentals often are single-family properties, where guests don’t mingle and don’t share common spaces.
It doesn’t make sense to close what is perhaps the safest option for short-term housing, while allowing hotels and motels – which have numerous common spaces and staff moving between rooms – to remain open.
Furthermore, the government shouldn’t be able to pick winners and losers among lawful businesses.
Government could propose rules that lodging establishments must follow to protect the safety of their guests and the public – it has long done this for restaurants and other businesses. But choosing to allow hotels and motels to remain in business, but not short-term rentals, smacks of arbitrariness.
A well-run, clean short-term rental is safer than a poorly run, dirty hotel. Yet under Florida’s executive order, the former must be closed, while the latter can operate.
Finally, the order denies ordinary Floridians a potential economic lifeline in a time of grave economic crisis. With the nation rapidly approaching 20 percent unemployment, many individuals and families are scrambling to make ends meet. Property long has served as a potential source of income for individuals.
Even an extra $500 per month might make the difference between getting by versus falling behind. So long as someone operates in a safe manner, it is capricious to deny them the means to support themselves and their family.
No one doubts governors are being required to make extraordinarily difficult decisions during this crisis, but governors also are wielding extraordinary power, often at the stroke of a pen. While that power often must be wielded quickly, it also must be wielded responsibly, based on the best available information.
Since what we know indicates short-term rentals actually may be a safer option than hotels and motels, closing them down seems like an unnecessary blow to Florida property owners at a time when they can least afford it.
Short-term rentals should be an integral part of the state’s reopening plans this week.
Matt Miller is a Senior Attorney at the Goldwater Institute.