How Vacation Rental Legislature Affects Fort Lauderdale
"Some rules are meant to be broken." It's a saying we've all heard before. But coming from a group whose job is to craft smart public policy? Sadly, some on the City Commission are seeking to embrace a new ordinance aimed at putting the short-term rental income out of reach for responsible property owners here in Fort Lauderdale.
When the Florida state government passed legislation in 2011 that prohibited cities and counties from effectively banning short-term rentals, it did so with the goal of establishing uniform rules throughout the state that protect property owners and neighborhoods, along with our state's top industry: tourism. According to VISIT FLORIDA, the state's official tourism marketing corporation, the tourism industry generates $67 billion in revenue in the state's economy. Recognizing the importance of maximizing Florida's biggest source of economic activity, state leaders sought to protect a nascent, but rapidly growing segment of the tourism industry.
And their efforts have been rewarded. According to a recent survey using data from the Florida Vacation Rental Managers Association (Florida VRMA) and VISIT FLORIDA, the state's vacation rental market has a total economic output of $31.1 billion. These vacation rentals alone directly or indirectly support 322,032 jobs in Florida, thanks in large part to the money spent by their owners on upkeep and services to their properties. In fact, maintenance and services reflect the two largest categories of owner/management spending with $6,465 and $5,516 in average annual expenditures, respectively.
This legislation enacted at the state level, known more commonly as preemption, was modified in 2014 to afford local governments the flexibility they needed to enforce reasonable, commonsense standards for short-term rentals and ensure they remain in compliance with neighborhood, local, and state ordinances. Simultaneously, the update reinforced the uniform, statewide rules that permit all short-term rentals.
The wisdom of this statewide approach goes beyond its implications for the tourism industry. It also guarantees uniform, equal treatment of the property rights of all homeowners in Florida. Thanks to this legislation, all Sunshine State homeowners, regardless of where they live or what type of home they own, can be assured they have the control and understanding required to effectively manage and rent their properties throughout the year.
Think of it this way. Right here in Broward County, there are more than 30 incorporated cities, towns, and villages. If each of these had a different framework for regulating how and when short-term rentals operate, homeowners who rely on renting their properties to pay their mortgages, save for retirement and make ends meet would be forced to navigate a complex system of patchwork regulations, both at the local and county levels. Instead, with the state's current approach, the basic rules are the same for everyone – renting your home on a short-term basis is legal, so long as you comply with standard local ordinances.
Unfortunately, our own City Commission here in Fort Lauderdale is considering embracing short-term rental regulations that are anything but standard, straying from the city's job of ensuring compliance and amounting to de facto bans for some property owners. While the ordinance does not eliminate short-term rentals outright, its cumbersome requirements, intentionally complicated wording, and burdensome $750 annual registration fee will not only make compliance more difficult, but it could have the effect of eliminating short-term rentals as an option for some property owners throughout the city.
Because they provide unparalleled flexibility and privacy at an affordable rate, vacation rentals have become the most preferred lodging alternative for families. With fewer of these short-term rentals in Fort Lauderdale, some visitors may choose to drive a half-hour south on I-95 to North Miami Beach, or a half-hour north to Deerfield Beach, rather than stay in a hotel. This means the ramifications from the loss of short-term rentals would not be isolated to property owners; businesses throughout Fort Lauderdale would be harmed due to a shrunken tourism industry, particularly those located outside of hotel districts that have benefitted from a larger tourist footprint throughout the city.
By considering an ordinance that will not increase compliance and could result in decreasing participation in the short-term rental market by homeowners, Fort Lauderdale risks undoing the tangible benefits this industry has brought to our community, forfeiting significant amounts of tax revenue, and losing tourist activity to neighboring destination communities.
And for those who fear that the state's approach amounts to free rein for short-term rentals, don't worry – it doesn't. State law permits community and homeowner associations to fully regulate short-term rentals as they see fit. This enables communities to address direct concerns at the most local level without impacting homeowners more broadly throughout the city.
For these reasons, I urge the Fort Lauderdale City Commission to reject any and all ordinances that seek to do an end-run around the state's laws governing vacation rentals. Such short-sighted approaches set the stage for long-term harm for our community.
Florida VRMA Executive Director