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Short-term rental bill advances in Tallahassee

STORY BY LISA ZAHNER (Week of February 13, 2014)

A bill aimed at returning regulatory control over vacation rentals in residential neighborhoods to cities has sailed through two Florida Senate committees and is finally making some progress in the Florida House.

The bill, entitled “Regulation of Public Lodging Establishments & Public Food Service Establishments,” would repeal an unpopular 2011 law which has prevented cities like Vero Beach from passing ordinances restricting or prohibiting the rental by the night or by the week of private residences.

Earlier this month, Senate Bill 356 was approved 7-1 in the Community Affairs Committee. It had already been unanimously approved by the Regulated Industries Committee.

An identical document, House Bill 307, seemed stalled when the House Business and Professional Regulation Subcommittee chaired by Rep. Debbie Mayfield had not placed the bill on a meeting agenda after it was referred to Business and Professional Affairs on Dec. 13. But Mayfield’s committee met on Feb. 4, voting 10-3 to approve the bill.

Three Republicans voted against HB 307, the committee Vice Chair Rep. Gregory Steube of Sarasota, Rep. Mike La Rosa and Rep. Carlos Trujillo of Miami.

House Bill 307 must now get analyzed, heard and voted on favorably by two more committees – Local and Federal Affairs and Regulatory Affairs – and survive a floor vote in the House when session begins in March. If both the House and Senate bills are approved and Gov. Rick Scott then signs them into law, Vero Beach and other cities, counties and towns will find relief from the nearly three-year-old ban on stiffening vacation rental regulations in city code.

The 2011 law was pushed by the Florida Vacation Rental Association and its lobbyists.

The association is still listed in the public record to have the lobbyist Lori Killinger of the firm Lewis Longman & Walker on retainer, but only reported spending between $1 and $9,999 in the final quarter of 2013. Unlike 2011 when the group’s website featured frequent legislative updates, there is no such content related to the 2014 session or to HB 307 and SB 356.

After a controversy rose last summer when then-Vice Mayor Tracy Carroll and her husband John appealed a $50 fine for renting out their Camelia Lane home in Central Beach to vacationers, the Code Enforcement Board ruled that the city’s code was too vague to be enforced.

The City Council did not agree and the dispute plunged the city into court. There have yet to be any hearings in that case, as motions and briefs are still being exchanged between attorneys.

The deadline for the Carrolls’ attorney to file a response to the City Council’s arguments is Feb. 18, according to city staff.

Should the vacation rental “repealer” bill become law, it could render the case moot, or at least cause the parties to settle the dispute out of court.

The issue alleged by the City Council, however, that the Code Enforcement Board overstepped its bounds by interpreting city code instead of taking staff interpretation at face value, would still need to be resolved.