A new state-wide vacation rental law bill proposed in the Florida Senate would require vacation rental owners to apply for and pay a fee for a license in order to operate a vacation rental whether advertised on a website or not, as well as wipe out city and county vacation rental regulations now in place.

With at least three new vacation rental bills ready for debate when the Florida Legislature convenes on January 9th, vacation rental owners are going to suddenly find themselves wondering whether it would be better to be regulated by local governments, or better to be regulated by the State Division of Hotels and Restaurants and the red tape that comes with state-level regulation.

The newest vacation rental Bill (Senate Bill 1400) begins with text language describing the intent of the Florida Legislature to protect private property rights including the right to rent.  It states, “Property owners who choose to use their property as a vacation rental have constitutionally protected property and other rights that must be protected, including the right to use their residential property as a vacation rental.

However, that is not an absolute right.   Vacation rental owners will be interested to read through the rest of the proposed bill which would impose several significant conditions on “The Right To Rent” and shift complete control of regulation to Tallahassee through the Division of Hotels and Restaurants.  Here is a brief summary of the significant conditions that would be imposed by SB 1400:

  • Residential property cannot be rented as a “vacation rental” unless the owner applies for and receives a license from the State Division of Hotels and Restaurants (or will face criminal charges if renting anyway without a license). An application fee is required when submitting the application.
  • Once obtained, vacation rental licenses will have an expiration date and must be renewed every year the property is rented as a “vacation rental.”
  • The Division of Hotels and Restaurants would now be authorized to adopt additional Rules (through the state agency rule-making procedures of the “Administrative Procedure Act” (Chapter 120, Florida Statutes)) to regulate vacation rentals including adopting fee amounts.
  • Late fees can be assessed if renewal applications are submitted after the license expiration date.
  • Vacation rentals would be subject to taxes the same way that hotels or other transient rentals are taxed pursuant to Chapter 212, Florida Statutes.
  • Once obtained, vacation rental licenses must be “conspicuously” displayed somewhere on or inside the property.
  • After obtaining a license, a vacation rental must be made available for inspection by the Division of Hotels and Restaurants upon request.   The text language of the bill actually states, “Inspection of premises – For purposes of performing inspections and the enforcement of this chapter, the division has the right of entry and access to a vacation rental at any reasonable time.”    In addition, the Division will have the power to inspect vacation rentals whenever necessary to respond to an emergency.
  • Local law enforcement shall provide immediate assistance in pursing an illegally operating vacation rental.
  • The Division of Hotels and Restaurants can refuse to issue or renew a license to a vacation rental owner if in the preceding 5 years the owner was convicted of any crime reflecting on “professional character” (or convicted of drug-related crimes or prostitution-related crimes).
  • Vacation rentals that violate the new law or are operating without a license or are operating under a suspended or revoked license may be subject to a fine of up to $1,000 per offense. Each day a vacation rental is in violation counts as a separate offense. The Division of Hotels and Restaurants shall have the authority to post a prominent “Closed-For-Operation” sign on the property if an owner’s license is suspended or revoked, and the owner could face criminal charges for defacing or trying to remove it.  Not until after 12 months of suffering a suspended or revoked license, can the vacation rental owner apply to have the license reinstated.
  • SB 1400 would delete subsections 509.032(7)(a) and (7)(b) of the Florida Statutes which allow for minimal regulation by local governments and the “grandfather” provision that allow local government regulations to stay in place if they were on the books prior to June 1, 2011. This would have the effect of making all existing city and county vacation rental regulations unenforceable.
  • SB 1400 keeps the definition of “vacation rental” but adds it to Section 509.013 “Definitions.” It defines “Vacation Rental” as  “any unit in a condominium or cooperative or any individually or collectively owned single-family, two-family, three-family, or four-family house or dwelling unit that is rented to guests for periods of less than 6 months.”

Click here to see the full draft Senate Bill 1400 filed by State Senator Greg Steube of Sarasota for the 2018 Legislative Session.  Our blog post on Dec. 5, 2018 discusses two other proposed bills (HB 773 and HB 789). Stay tuned to see how these various proposals evolve throughout the Session.