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Palm Coast Monday, May 8, 2017 2 years ago

State legislation that would have barred county from regulating vacation rentals dies

The Senate did not vote on legislation that could have prevented Flagler County from enforcing its ordinance on vacation rentals.
by: Jonathan Simmons News Editor

State legislation that could have gutted Flagler County’s ability to regulate vacation rentals died without a Senate vote May 5.

That was the outcome Flagler County officials were hoping for after months of pressing the state not to pass the House and Senate bills that would have left the county unable to enforce its 2014 vacation rental ordinance.

The outcome on the final day of the Senate Session came after the proposed legislation was amended 11 times in about 36 hours, Flagler County Attorney Al Hadeed said.

Hadeed, who’d made repeated trips to Tallahassee on the county’s behalf to press the state to leave intact municipalities’ ability to regulate, said the process moved quickly and with little opportunity for citizens to view or comment on the numerous versions of the bill.

“How is any ordinary person, a citizen, going to keep up with what’s happening with a bill that concerns them if they’re in a neighborhood affected by vacation rentals, or indeed if they own a vacation rental or are thinking of investing in a vacation rental?” Hadeed said. “The process is not transparent. ... To put it together and understand what kind of effect it has in this compressed timeframe is almost impossible unless you are an expert in the legislative process. This is not the way to arrive at public policy.”

Going into the final days of the session, the Senate bill, S.B. 188, was so far out of step with its House companion, H.B. 425, that it seemed unlikely the two could be reconciled, Hadeed said.

The House bill had already passed in a 63-56 vote on April 28, and was written to bar municipalities from regulating vacation rentals in any manner that did not also apply to all residential rental properties. The would have meant that Flagler County, for instance, would have had to inspect every condo and long-term rental if it wanted to be able to inspect vacation rentals. That would be prohibitively expensive, county staff members said in public meetings.

The Senate companion bill went through numerous iterations, and in its early version said much the same thing as the House bill: That communities could regulate rentals only if the regulations applied equally to all residential rental properties. That bill allowed communities with ordinances dating back to 2011 to be grandfathered in under the new law, and to retain that grandfathering if they amended their ordinances, as long as those amendments lessened restrictions.

Proposed amendments to the Senate bill would have grandfathered in all local ordinances that had been passed prior to the enactment of the law. That would have meant that Flagler County’s ordinance would have been grandfathered in, while communities that have not passed ordinances — such as St. Johns County — would not get to do so. But there was also a “giant loophole” that would have affected even the grandfathered communities like Flagler County, Hadeed said.

The Senate bill said that any military service member or veteran that owned a property — in whole or in part, and regardless off whether the property was homesteaded or an investment property — would be exempt from all ordinances and regulations, including ones already on the books.

“It wasn’t a situation where, ‘I’m in the military, I’m on active duty; I get stationed to go to Germany or Afghanistan, and now it’s my homesteaded property and I want to rent it, but I have the option to rent it short term rental;’ it applied to more than that,” Hadeed said. “Investors could recruit people in the military service to give them fractional ownership to exempt themselves from the rules.”

Other amendments to the Senate bill stated that the bill wouldn’t affect governments regulating under the 2014 law which permitted local governments to regulate rentals. Those ordinances would be respected, as would ones passed in or before a 2011 rule that had barred local governments from regulating the rentals, and which was overturned by the 2014 legislation. This variation of the bill created a state program for veterans that local governments could opt into, but did not override home rule, Hadeed said.

The Senate met in extended session May 8, but only to resolve budget issues.


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