Seminole looks at rules for Airbnb, vacation rentals:

'This is for the protection of the residents'

Article Courtesy of  The Orlando Sentinel

By Martin E. Comas

Published April 23, 2019


With the booming popularity of home-sharing sites such as Airbnb, Seminole County leaders say residents are complaining that homes are being turned into mini-hotels with loud parties, too many cars parked on the streets and excessive numbers of overnight visitors.

On Tuesday, Seminole commissioners will take another crack at enacting regulations aimed at short-term vacations rentals, including requiring property owners wanting to rent homes in unincorporated areas for less than a month to register it with the county at a charge of $250 a year and receive an “affidavit of compliance.”

County officials said they want to make sure that homeowners who decide to share their homes with visitors are respectful to the rest of the neighborhood.

“This is for the protection of the residents,” Commissioner Lee Constantine said. “It’s about being a good neighbor.”

It will be the second time in less than a year that commissioners will try to pass regulations on short-term vacation rentals. They put the matter aside last June following several questions to county staff about enforcement and registration.

Orlando enacted similar regulations in February 2018 that went into effect last June. In Orange County, short-term vacation rentals are currently not allowed within most residential neighborhoods.

Orange County leaders are taking a wait-and-see approach regarding Orlando’s regulations, county spokeswoman Doreen Overstreet said.

“We’re seeing how that goes,” she said.

After all, Central Florida is one of the top tourist destinations in the world with an estimated 72 million visitors a year. Many homeowners see a lucrative opportunity in opening up their homes to out-of-towners wanting to avoid crowded and expensive hotels.

In 2018, about 4.5 million visitors used Airbnb in Florida, providing homeowners and hosts $810 million in supplemental income, according to the company.

In Seminole, about 22,000 visitors used Airbnb in 2018. That’s roughly double the number from 2017. Elsewhere in Central Florida, Osceola had about 640,000 guests; Orange, 338,000; and Lake 49,000, according to numbers provided by Airbnb.

“We’re seeing the fastest growth outside the large, urban areas,” said Ben Breit, a company spokesman.

Cities across the U.S. are setting tough new guidelines on short-term rentals, which they say can negatively affect nearby homeowners.

According to a recent report in the Miami Herald, Miami Beach has some of the most aggressive short-term rental policies in the country. Since March 2016 — when the city raised fines to $20,000 — Miami Beach’s code compliance department has issued more than 430 violations and levied nearly $8 million in fines, the Herald reported.

According to Seminole’s proposed ordinance, each short-term vacation rental home would be limited to two people per bedroom — or sleeping room — and have no more than four children under 13. Each home is required to have a fire extinguisher in a centrally located area near sleeping rooms.

Loud noise would be forbidden from 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. Each house would need enough parking spaces on the property for at least two cars, plus an additional parking space for every bedroom beyond two, according to the ordinance. Guests could not park on sidewalks, bike paths or trails.

Short-term vacation rentals also would have to collect Seminole’s 5-percent tourist development tax.

An outside company — or third-party vendor — hired by Seminole would register homes as short-term vacation rentals. The registration would include the location, maximum occupancy, and who law-enforcement officials can contact in case there is a violation reported to the Sheriff’s Office, such as loud noise or cars parked on the street.

Commissioners in June suggested raising the annual registration fee from $150 to $250 to “encourage a professional level of commitment to the rental activity,” according to county documents. Up to half of the registration fee amount may be allocated to an affordable housing trust fund, according to the ordinance.

If approved, the new regulations wouldn’t apply to homeowners associations that prohibit short-term vacation rentals.

“We disallowed them last year,” said Blaine Darrah, government affairs chairman for the Heathrow master community association, a gated neighborhood of 2,061 homes near Lake Mary.

Heathrow residents were concerned out-of-town vacationers would be able to open the gates into their neighborhood.

“It’s like opening the door to say anyone can come in,” Darrah said. “You have to give them gate access, but they don’t know what the rules or regulations are, and what you can or cannot do.”

But Commissioner Amy Lockhart said she has plenty of questions about the new regulations, including the registration process.

“Do we really want a registration of people that are doing Airbnb?” she asked. “It kind of feels Big Brother to me. …Most of the complaints are for things that we already have ordinances for, whether it’s noise or parking. But I have an open mind and I’m anxious to hear what my fellow board members say.”