Dozens of Miami homeowners who use Airbnb showed up at City Hall last week to voice their disagreement with the city's proposed ban on short-term rentals like those offered on the popular app.
Before they could speak, though, they had to identify themselves and provide a home address, as is customary for most public comment periods.
Now, after approving the ban with a 3-2 vote, the city could use the information from that hearing to target those same people for inspections and fines.
"We are now on notice for people who did come here and notify us in public and challenge us in public," Daniel Alfonso, Miami city manager, told the Miami Herald. "I will be duly bound to request our personnel to enforce the city code."
Mayor Thomas Regalado reportedly suggested the same course of action while speaking to a local radio station about the city's evolving policy on short-term rentals and Airbnb, according to Miami Herald reporter David Smiley:
— David Smiley (@NewsbySmiley) March 23, 2017
Yes, everyone who spoke at the hearing voluntarily turned over their information to the city. They're easy targets, for sure.
Still, the notion that city officials would single-out people who spoke up against a public policy—those who "challenge us in public," as Alfonso put it—simply because they spoke up in public is quite disturbing. Instead of focusing on nuisance tenants or short-term rentals that are drawing complaints from neighbors (if there are any), they are choosing specifically to target members of the community who are engaged in the political process and are trying to make their voices heard.
Miami might be taking an ill-advised lesson from nearby Miami Beach, which has led the way in Florida's fight against letting residents do as they please with their own property. As Reason has previously reported, the city issued more than $1.6 million in fines for homesharing last year, with individual fines running as high as $20,000.
Earlier this month, Miami Beach Mayor Phillip Levine directed a Trump-like tweet-storm at Airbnb's official corporate account earlier this month. According to one of the mayor's tweets, Miami Beach "doesn't want what your (sic) selling!!!!"
City officials might not like Airbnb, but most Floridians do. A February survey by pollsters Mason & Dixon found that 93 percent of Florida residents said Airbnb should be legal, and 65 percent of Floridians polled by Mason & Dixon said local governments shouldn't regulate homesharing apps at all.
Both cities justify their attacks on homesharing by saying that Airbnb rentals represent "illegal nuisances" in otherwise residential neighborhoods. If so, the cities should enforce existing nuisance laws against renters (or homeowners) who are creating problems for neighbors. Preventing law-abiding residents from renting extra space in their homes—and then targeting residents who exercise their right to voice opposition to city policies—is not protecting anyone and is arguably pulling enforcement officers away from other, more important duties.
"We will continue to strongly advocate for the rights of middle-class families to share their own homes, both in the City of Miami and Miami Beach," Benjamin Breit, a spokesman for Airbnb, told Reason via email. "We should be working together to protect the middle class, not punishing people who are trying to pay the bills."
The state might be stepping in to stop places like Miami and Miami Beach from writing their own rules for Airbnb. Legislation introduced this year 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 short-term rentals. Steube's bill passed out of the Senate Regulated Industries Committee last week and is awaiting another vote in the Senate Community Affairs Committee.
States should only act to supersede local authority when there is good cause to do so. With their heavy-handed approach to homesharing, Miami and Miami Beach are making a good case for state lawmakers to do so.