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FL - Controversial Vacation Rental Proposal All But Eliminating Local Regulation Advances in Senate

A controversial effort to further limit local governments’ ability to regulate and inspect vacation rental properties is advancing in the Florida Senate, as the proposal’s sponsor on Tuesday assured critics that the legislation is “a starting point.”

As online platforms such as Airbnb have grown in popularity, regulation of short-term rental properties has become a perennial fight in the Legislature. It is of special interest to Flagler County and its local government, which last decade initiated the movement that led to the 2014 law granting local governments the power to regulate short-term rentals up to a point.

Flagler’s vacation rentals initially drew attention in the Hammock, where property owners after the housing bust tried to save their properties from foreclosure by turning them into such rentals. Vacationers embraced the opportunity not to stay in hotels. Neighbors of vacation rentals didn’t like the noise and activity the rentals generated. They protested, gained county commissioners’ and legislators’ attention, and got a law and a local ordinance passed.

Flagler’s ordinance became a model for numerous other counties and cities. But the short-term rental industry has been trying to scrap the law since. For a few years Flagler’s commissioners and their attorney fought pitched battles in the Legislature, shuttling from Bunnell to Tallahassee to defend the law and keeping the law’s preservation among their annual legislative priorities.

In the last few years, however, commissioners have lost heart for the time-consuming trips, leaving it to their lobbyist to fight the battle.

Two other factors have dulled the edge of the opposition to deregulation: vacation rentals generate significant tourist-tax revenue, and since the coronavirus pandemic have–especially in Flagler–proven to be an unexpected tourism bright spot: Leery of braving the risks of infection at high-traffic hotels and motels, tourists have taken to the more autonomous and therefore safer alternative of short-term home rentals.

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