Airbnb regulations: Local governments know best

Article Courtesy of The Orlando Sentinel

By Pamela Peters

Published April 17, 2017


Lawmakers in Tallahassee are on the verge of taking away one of the core functions and responsibilities of Florida’s local governments. The action is considered under the guise of allowing so-called “home-sharing” platforms to flourish, but if this legislation passes, it could hurt the safety and vitality of our communities and take away the ability of our cities to decide what is best for us.

Florida communities have been welcoming visitors to our state since its earliest days, and, as a tourism-based economy, that steady stream of visitors is vital to our continued prosperity. Addressing the rights and needs of everyone is a constant work in progress, but through much trial and error, we have mostly learned how to strike a balance that works for both our residents and our visitors. Everyone is allowed to enjoy our communities whether they are third-generation residents or weekenders who fly in for a wedding or a warm-weather getaway. Unfortunately, in some Central Florida neighborhoods that balance is teetering because of an explosion of online rentals through sites like Airbnb and HomeAway.

Although many of us appreciate innovations in travel that have resulted from the rapid development of the internet, vacation-home rentals often have a negative effect on residents in Florida. The issue seems as if it emerged overnight, especially for the families who live close to homes that are listed.

Nightly rental websites that claim to be “home-sharing” platforms have grown exponentially over the past few years. Airbnb is less than 10 years old, but it is valued at more than $30 billion. That is larger than Hilton and Hyatt combined. These home-sharing companies did not exist a few years ago, and neither did the issue in a meaningful way. Now the sites and brands themselves are fairly ubiquitous.

Local media have reported stories of “party houses,” hostels and boarding-house-style rentals from Longwood to Orlando and throughout the state. Investors are reportedly purchasing homes in residential areas for the express purpose of renting them commercially. Coastal and lakeside properties are especially popular. This presents an obvious threat to the balance and quality of life of full-time residents stuck next to the equivalent of an “illegal hotel.” For this reason, cities and homeowner associations have regulations in place to limit short-term rentals to specific areas. That is a lot like zoning tourist corridors for legitimate hotels or traditional bed-and-breakfast inns in our residential neighborhoods.

As a resident and former city commissioner in Winter Park, I have joined with neighbors and friends to protect the small-town feel of the city and our residential areas by limiting most commercial activity to major thoroughfares like Lee Road and Mills, Aloma and Fairbanks avenues. Commercial activity in the downtown area must meet certain guidelines consistent with Winter Park’s history and character. The city looks much different than it did 50 years ago when I moved here, and I cannot imagine what it will look like 50 years from now. But what I do know is that, in order to preserve the city’s unique character, Winter Park’s elected leaders will need the ability to control land use and zoning within the city. The same goes for leaders in other communities across our state. And, of course, residents and leaders in other communities across our state deserve the same opportunities.

On the short-term rental issue, Tallahassee lawmakers are considering legislation that would take away the rights of our local communities to regulate these industries that could profoundly affect our quality of life. This would be a terrible mistake. There is nothing more local and unique than the physical layout of a city and the way in which properties are used. Every city is different. It is simply bad policy to treat each Florida municipality the same. It is even worse policy to prevent local governments from working to strike a balanced approach that works for the residents in their unique municipalities.

Florida communities can and should determine the right policies for themselves. Politicians should allow them the time and opportunity to do so. I have always believed that government closest to the people best serves the people.