June 17, 2020
By Matt Miller

Renting out your home in Miami Beach could cost you bigtime—in fact, it’s home to the highest home-sharing fines in the country. A Florida district court struck down the law, but the city was back in court appealing the decision—and the Goldwater Institute was there to argue on behalf of Florida homeowners and their private property rights.

In Miami, the Third District Court of Appeal heard the city of Miami Beach’s appeal of its loss last year in Florida district court, where the city’s astronomical fines for short-term rentals were declared illegal. Currently, if someone rents their home for a period of less than 30 days, Miami Beach imposes fines that start at $20,000 and escalate to $100,000 per offense. These are the penalties for peaceful rentals—no party house required. But as the district court correctly recognized when it struck down the law, these fines are illegal in Florida. (Unfortunately, Florida rules have stayed the enforcement of the ruling while the case is on appeal, because it struck down a city ordinance.) 

Under the Florida Constitution, the Florida Legislature has the authority to prescribe the amount of fines that cities may levy. And the legislature has been very clear: For property code violations, the maximum is $1,000 for the first offense and $5,000 for subsequent offenses. Miami Beach’s law exceeds these maximums twentyfold and stands in direct conflict with the state statute.

Particularly during the coronavirus pandemic of 2020, homeowners need as much flexibility as possible to make ends meet. And many travelers prefer short-term rentals to hotels these days because they have no common spaces, no elevators, and plenty of distance from other people. This seems like a match made in free-market heaven, but many cities continue to impose draconian restrictions on short-term rentals, rather than allowing the market to function. Miami Beach says it needs to restrict short-term rentals in order to crack down on party houses. But cities have plenty of tools—like nuisance ordinances—to police problem properties. Furthermore, the city allows short-term rentals in certain areas of the city that are known for partying, like North Beach.

Rather than actually addressing nuisances, the city instead seems to be picking winners and losers. This is similar to what Florida Governor Ron DeSantis did when he ordered short-term rentals closed during the Florida coronavirus lockdown, but permitted hotels, resorts, and other accommodations to remain open.

Hopefully, this case will mark a turning point for property rights in Florida, and the appeals court will uphold the decision of the district court. This case also marked a successful collaboration between the Goldwater Institute’s American Freedom Network and Institute attorneys. Local Florida litigator Joseph Van de Bogart worked with our attorneys to secure the victory. The American Freedom Network provides an opportunity for attorneys across the nation to lend their skills, expertise, and interests to the Institute’s dedicated effort to defend freedom.

The court of appeals is expected to render its decision sometime this summer.

Matt Miller is a Senior Attorney at the Goldwater Institute.

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