Vacation rentals? What's the issue?

By: 
Mar. 24, 2017

I live in a neighborhood that is almost entirely vacation rentals. There is only one other permanent resident, besides my wife and me, and a handful of seasonal residents. It is wonderful.

Everyone in my neighborhood is on vacation, having a good time, and their happiness is infectious. They come from all over the world and the United States, and it is a delight to meet and chat with them.

My personal experience simply does not align with the arguments of those who want to ban or restrict vacation rentals.

For example, Home Rule Florida, a group concerned about the effects of vacation rentals on communities, says: “Incompatible short-term rental housing negatively impacts the neighborhood environment and impairs its stability, affecting the entire community.” And: “The displacement of true residents both year-round and part-time by transient vacationers diminishes the critical attribute of neighborhood pride.” 

But there is little data that I can find, such as declining home values, to support Home Rule's view.

Indeed, without any real evidence of harm, in effect, you can interpret Home Rule's comments as saying: “We don't like vacation homes, so we don't want to allow you to rent out your home.”

In fact, Home Rule is working to defeat legislation in the Legislature that would negate all local governments' short-term vacation rental regulations adopted since 2014. It says it wants “to restore the choice of local communities so they can fulfill their own vision of what they wish in protecting and preserving the character of existing neighborhoods and condominium communities.”

But in response to that goal, here's a straightforward question: Isn't part of homeownership being able to do what you please with your home, as long as you do not demonstrably harm your neighbors?

We have an extensive body of nuisance and other laws designed to prevent one homeowner from imposing harms on others via noise, smells, parking, trash, what have you. After all, we all have family and friends who visit us, staying for various lengths of time. Some people have lots of family and friends who stay with them. In terms of neighborhood impact, how is that different from vacation renters? Why not let homeowners use their homes as assets if they like?

Indeed, Sen. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, is taking that position. He says more than 30 municipal ordinances around the state to restrict or ban vacation rentals have been introduced since 2014; he has authored a bill that would stop them from doing so.

Since 2011, state law has allowed local governments to regulate vacation rentals, as long as they do not limit the duration or frequency of stays. Sen. Steube says his law would strengthen those protections. His bill also would prevent regulation-happy local governments from singling out vacation rentals for special, more-stringent and invasive rules than what is already in place, regulating everything from floor coverings to parked cars.

Why should a homeowner wishing to rent his home out to vacationers have to adopt stricter rules than everyone else on the block?

Home Rule Florida argues that Steube's bill and similar laws violate local government home rule, and that policies about vacation rentals are best made locally. In general, I agree, but not when it comes to violating people's rights.

It is wrong to prevent all the good and responsible vacation home owners and vacationers from voluntarily exchanging money for housing to prevent a few imagined or real bad actors. And it fundamentally violates the property rights of those owners who want to rent out their home.

Sen. Steube's law would not be a violation of home rule, but would merely prevent local activists or political leaders from ganging up on one select group of property owners to diminish their rights.

Some people say vacation rentals are a problem because they are commercial. The commercial nature of vacation rentals does not warrant any special restrictions because protecting the parties from fraud and protecting neighbors from nuisance are already in the law. There is nothing wrong or harmful about commercial transactions. We do it for all manner of goods, including paying for our own homes.

When I look around my own neighborhood of vacation rentals, I don't see damage to my neighborhood or my family. All I see is homeowners doing as they see fit with their property, just as I would like to do with mine.

When I look at anti-vacation rental regulations, all I see is people imposing their views on others and controlling homeowners' use of their own property.

Asserting unspecified “negative neighborhood impacts” and diminished “neighborhood pride” is not evidence. That just scares people into regulating away their freedoms.

Take it from someone who lives in a vacation rental neighborhood: There is no negative impact, no impaired stability and no diminished neighborhood pride — just a lot of happy people on vacation and a lot of happy homeowners. These regulations don't make any sense and should not be allowed.