Article Courtesy of The Sun
By Paul Owers
Published May 20, 2016
An explosion of short-term rentals by South Florida
homeowners has left neighbors complaining and cities scrambling to regulate the
Websites such as Airbnb.com and VRBO.com have soared in popularity, offering
travelers the opportunity to rent rooms or homes that are more quaint, spacious
and cheaper than chain hotels.
A yearlong study released
in January by the Penn State School of Hospitality Management
showed a nearly 60 percent annual increase in host revenue on
Airbnb in 12 major metros nationwide, including South Florida.
From September 2014 through September 2015, more than 5,400
operators in South Florida pulled in $127 million of the $1.3
billion in revenue generated by Airbnb, the study found. Only
New York, Los Angeles and San Francisco accounted for more.
HomeAway, a company in Austin, Texas, that owns VRBO and other
sites, says it has roughly 7,700 South Florida property
listings, more than double the number from five years ago.
HomeAway has about 1.2 million listings worldwide, the majority of which are
second homes not occupied by the owners, spokesman Jordan Hoefar said.
Most of the guests are "families in groups looking for calm, peaceful getaways,"
he said. "It's a much more affordable way to travel than three hotel rooms for a
Homeowners say that renting out a spare bedroom or an entire residence to
vacationers is a great way to meet new people and earn extra cash. But
municipalities, residents and homeowner groups see vacation rentals as nuisances
and potential safety risks that should be banned or at least regulated.
Melinda Morgan, 49, of Fort Lauderdale said vacation renters in her neighborhood
routinely blast loud music and party in the street. They also speed through the
area, she said, prompting her to put up a sign to remind drivers that children
"These people are on vacation, so they have different hours and attitudes than
the rest of us," Morgan said.
Bob Jasinski, who lives near a vacation rental in Fort Lauderdale's Riverside
Park, says he has constant traffic on his dead-end street from renters, taxis
and cleaning crews. He isn't opposed to the rentals but does want them
Susan Thomas, a resident of the Colee Hammock neighborhood in Fort Lauderdale,
said she had to call police last year to deal with disorderly tenants occupying
the vacation rental across the street.
That was before a Fort Lauderdale ordinance regulating the rentals went into
effect. Since then, things have improved, she said, though she's still not a fan
of vacation rentals because she said they change the face of the neighborhood.
Thomas recently noticed about a dozen young women at the house across the street
carrying what appeared to be formal gowns. She suspects they're in town for a
wedding, which isn't horrible, all things considered.
"I just hope it's not a bachelorette party because those are the worst," she
Despite the improved economy, some homeowners still are struggling financially
and are turning entrepreneurial to find new sources of income, said Donna
DiMaggio Berger, a South Florida real estate lawyer.
"They're looking to monetize things they own," Berger said. "They're using their
cars for Uber and their homes for lodging."
Cindy Levine, a mortgage broker and real estate agent, said she placed an ad on
Airbnb last year to rent out a room in her Coral Springs home. At the time, she
said, she was unemployed and could not work.
Within two days of placing the ad, Levine said, she received an email from the
city of Coral Springs telling her to stop the rental. As a result, she had to
cancel five reservations.
Levine said she resents the restriction, saying homeowners should be able to
rent rooms if they want.
"It was such a shock," Levine said of the email from the city. "I was really
desperate for income. I was flat broke."
Under state law, cities can't ban vacation rentals, but some municipalities have
adopted measures to regulate the practice.
Nick Noto, a municipal prosecutor in the Coral Springs city attorney's office,
said he didn't have details on Levine's case. Coral Springs doesn't have
ordinances addressing the issue, he said, but rooms rented beyond 30 days aren't
considered vacation rentals and can be shut down, he said.
Other cities are grappling with the problem as well.
Fort Lauderdale last year approved an ordinance that requires people renting
their properties to register with the city. Commissioners will be asked June 7
to amend the ordinance to improve compliance.
In a May 3 memo to commissioners, City Manager Lee Feldman wrote that Fort
Lauderdale has received 126 applications for vacation rentals and more than
$84,000 in revenue generated from registration and business tax fees.
The city's enforcement efforts led to five property owners ending the vacation
rental and 23 properties submitting the required application, according to the
"There are 80 properties with code enforcement action in progress and
potentially several other properties that remain unidentified," Feldman wrote.
Matt Little, a Fort Lauderdale spokesman, said in an email that the city is
pleased with the success of the program so far. Coordinated training with code
enforcement officials, police officers and neighborhood volunteers will help in
flagging unregistered properties, he said.
"If there is a property that is disrupting a neighborhood's quality of life, we
want our neighbors to let us know so that we can thoroughly investigate," Little
In Delray Beach, owners who want to rent out their homes must get a landlord
permit through the city. But owners can't rent more than three times in a year.
Michael Coleman, Delray's community improvement director, said the city does its
best to keep tabs on violators, even monitoring vacation rental websites.
"But it's very labor-intensive," he said. "It's a full-time job because [the
industry] has grown so much."
Boca Raton Mayor Susan Haynie said the city prohibits vacation rentals in
single-family areas, a restriction that was on the books before the state said
cities couldn't ban the properties.
Like Delray, Boca employees monitor rental websites, though some illegal
operators avoid detection by omitting a photo of the front of the house, Haynie
"The neighbors are very upset," she said. "They expect quiet enjoyment and not a
transient use next door."
Andrea O'Rourke, past chairwoman of the Federation of Boca Raton Homeowner
Associations, said she hasn't been inundated with complaints in recent years.
But she said some residents in single-family waterfront communities, where
vacation rentals are big business, have expressed concerns about constant
turnover among neighbors.
Unless city officials can find a website listing or other proof of
short-term-rental occupancy, enforcement is difficult because owners and tenants
simply can claim that friends or family members are visiting, O'Rourke said.
"It's like nailing Jell-O to the wall," she said.
State law doesn't prevent community and homeowner associations from banning the
practice, and many boards include language in their governing documents that
outlaws or severely restricts short-term rentals.
Community associations have found that vacation renters and full-time residents
just don't mix, said Steven Weil, president of Royale Management Services, a
company in Fort Lauderdale that oversees 28 condo associations in the tri-county
Neighbors have no way of knowing whether the vacationers are vandals or just
there to have a good time, Weil said.
Hotels and motels are set up for the safety and comfort of visitors. An
innkeepers' license allows for problem guests to be easily removed, but those
staying in an owner's condo may have squatters' rights and could require
evictions, Weil said.
What's more, vacation rentals could void condo insurance policies and result in
"It's kind of like finding a date on Craigslist," Weil said of allowing vacation
renters. "It's probably not real smart."
Palm Aire Country Club Condo Association 4 in Pompano Beach requires guests to
have parking permits as a way to keep track of illegal vacation renters. Still,
even that isn't a fail-safe method because the complex includes 768 units in 14
buildings, said Darlene Smith, president of Palm Aire.
Officials recently discovered two legal renters trying to rent out rooms on
Airbnb in violation of board rules.
"We just ran across them by accident," Smith said.
Hoefar, the spokesman for HomeAway, said the company supports regulations on
vacation rentals. But ordinances often are written in legal language, making it
difficult for people to understand, he said.
Hoefar added that the bans, however well-intended, effectively drive the
practice underground and make the rentals less safe for everyone.
"People are just going to find sneakier ways to rent them out," he said.