Brevard County Commission to consider less-restrictive rules for vacation rentals

Article Courtesy of  Florida Today

By Dave Berman

Published September 18, 2020


South beaches resident Patricia Fitzgerald made a straightforward request to county commissioners on Tuesday: Consider changing the county's rules, so she can operate an Airbnb vacation rental on her property, south of Melbourne Beach.

Minutes after she spoke, commissioners took the first step that could help Fitzgerald and others looking to rent out their properties for the short term to provide a source of extra income.

Commissioners approved what's known as "legislative intent," directing county staff to work on rewriting the county rules regulating what the county terms "resort dwellings" Those are properties rented primarily to visitors to the county for a short period of time. The proposal then would come back to the County Commission for a public hearing and a possible vote.

If the proposal is approved, it would reduce the restrictions on such rentals and make the rules less complicated.

County Commissioner John Tobia — who is pushing the initiative — says these short-term rentals can be economic drivers, by providing a source of income for property owners like Fitzgerald and giving visitors to the county more lodging options.

Tobia first brought up the issue in February. But commissioners chose to wait to see if the Florida Legislature further addressed the issue of vacation rentals, and how state legislation might further preempt any county action.

Patricia Fitzgerald says current county rules prevent her from operating an Airbnb vacation rental on her property, south of Melbourne Beach.

The Florida Legislature took no action in the 2020 legislative session on two key bills on this topic, so that put the issue back on the County Commission's agenda.

Commissioners on Tuesday approved the legislative intent — the first step in changing the zoning rules — by a 4-1 vote, with Vice Chair Rita Pritchett voting no.

Pritchett said she voted against Tobia's proposal because she has received a number of complaints from residents of her North Brevard commission district about neighbors renting out residences to tourists.

So she didn't want to ease the county's restrictions on resort dwellings or vacation rentals.

Any rule changes the County Commission will consider would apply only in unincorporated Brevard. The county's 16 cities and towns would continue to be able to have more stringent rules, as would homeowners' associations throughout the county.

In a report to county commissioners, the county's Planning and Development Department describes the current county code language for resort dwellings as "convoluted."

"There are currently 54 zoning classifications in unincorporated Brevard County, spanning eight categories," the report noted. "Allowance of resort dwellings is dependent upon zoning classification, use, adjacent property use/zoning and sometimes location with respect to (State Road) A1A. These criteria determine whether resort dwellings are permitted, permitted with conditions or require a conditional-use permit."

Further complicating matters are the different state and county terms and definitions for such accommodations.

The state defines a "vacation rental" as any unit or group of units 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 also a transient public lodging establishment, but that is not a timeshare project. Transient public lodging establishments are ones rented to guests more than three times in a calendar year for periods of less than 30 days or which are advertised as a place regularly rented to guests.

The county defines a "resort dwelling" as any single-family dwelling or multifamily dwelling unit which is rented for periods of less than 90 days or which is advertised as a place rented for periods of less than 90 days.

Tobia is proposing that the county adopt the state's definition of vacation rentals. He said that would prevent any issues with the state preempting other county rules in this area, while ensuring that the county "maximize the economic opportunities for our citizens."

Brevard County collects a 5% Tourist Development Tax on hotel rooms and other short-term rentals. About 16% of the tax collections come through "management companies" such as Airbnb, which will represent about $2 million in tax revenue to the county for the current budget year that ends Oct. 1. That, in turn, amounts to about $40 million in revenue to the owners of the vacation rentals for the current budget year.

Brevard County zoning officials say they get an average of one inquiry a day about the permissibilily of resort dwellings.

County code enforcement staff gets about one complaint a month related to this issue — about half of which are substantiated as violations.