Florida Bill Would Stop Local Governments From Banning Airbnb

City commissioner frets that Airbnb users aren't paying "the tourist development tax" and other special taxes targeting visitors.



Since March, when Miami Beach, Florida, banned homeowners from using websites like Airbnb to conduct short-term rentals, the city has handed out more than $1.6 million in fines.

The crackdown, the Miami New Times wrote in August, has been "swift and brutal" including fines of up to $20,000 for a single violation.

Homeowners in Miami Beach and other parts of the Sunshine State might be getting a reprieve from local ordinances that violate their property rights when the Florida General Assembly reconvenes. Legislation introduced this week by state Sen. Greg Steube (R-Sarasota) would preempt local short-term rental regulations passed since 2011 and would prohibit local governments from enacting future restrictions on rentals made through services like Airbnb and HomeAway.

"Innovative technology platforms, such as those that provide people the opportunity to share their homes, have the ability to dramatically improve the lives of local citizens and provide billions of dollars in economic impact to the state," said Matt Kiessling, vice president of the Travel Technology Association, in a statement to Reason.

Steube's bill, Kiessling said, "sends a clear signal that Florida intends to be a leader in public policy for the sharing economy."

The state legislature does not convene until early March, but the bill could be moving before that. It could be up for consideration by an interim committee before the end of the month, though the timeline is still uncertain.

Stuebe told the Miami Herald this week that he sees short-term rentals as a property rights issue.

Indeed, it is. Local governments already set zoning rules and have other ways to regulate what homeowners can do with their property. If renters are violating noise ordinances, committing crimes, or otherwise endangering the lives and property of other people, they should be held accountable for their actions, of course.

But blanket restrictions on short-term rentals punish otherwise law-abiding residents from being able to use their property as an extra form of income. States should be prudent when interfering in how local governments conduct business, of course, but local control is no guarantee of liberty.

In Miami Beach and elsewhere in Florida, local officials have caved to special interests that seek to restrict new technology like Airbnb in order to protect hotels. Local officials are also upset because tourists using Airbnb aren't getting gouged by special taxes that many localities have imposed on hotels, seeking to drain dollars from visitors' wallets.

"They're not paying the tourist development tax, they're not paying the sales tax. The hosts are pocketing that money," complained Elaine Poe, Madeira Beach city commissioner, to FloridaPolitics.com last year when other Airbnb proposals were percolating in the state legislature.

Poe told the website that Madeira Beach, located on the Gulf Coast near St. Petersburg, is "busting everyone we can bust" and bragged about how she has "reported probably upwards of 250 to the Tourist Development Tax board."

Poe's comment should be a reminder that opposition to Airbnb and other short-term rental services isn't really about protecting neighborhoods from unwanted visitors and short-term renters. It's really about the money. Money that hotels make from being the only game in town, and money that governments make by helping protect hotels' interests while taxing the people who stay in them.