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Vacation rental law repeal to be pushed

STORY BY LISA ZAHNER (Week of November 14, 2013)

Both the Vero Beach City Council and the Indian River Neighborhood Association are expected to push for the repeal of a 2011 state law stripping cities’ rights to regulate vacation rentals when the Indian River County Legislative Delegation meets on Dec. 5.

Legislators who represent Vero Beach may have avoided questions put to them by Vero Beach 32963 about whether or not they would help reverse a 2011 state law pre-empting the regulation of vacation rentals, but they won’t be able to escape the issue put to them by constituents.

The question is no longer academic, as Senate Bill 356 was filed on Nov. 5 by Sen. John Thrasher of Flagler County. The repeal bill would wipe out the 2011 law, thereby restoring the ability of cities like Vero Beach to pass new ordinances regulating vacation rentals or to strengthen their existing ordinances.

Rep. Travis Hutson has publicly stated that he would file a companion bill in the Florida House.

Vero Isles resident Honey Minuse, one of the leaders of the IRNA, said last week, “We have been in discussions about legislative action on this matter and will certainly be attending the Legislation Delegation.”

Minuse said she personally would not be able to attend the Dec. 5 meeting, “but others are planning to attend to address this serious matter.”  

Vero Planning and Development Director Tim McGarry said he had already seen the Thrasher bill and would be addressing it with the City Council. “The City Council will very likely be asked to approve a resolution supporting the proposed bill at its Dec. 3 meeting,” he said.

Short-term rentals became an emotional issue in the city council election, with yard signs and advertisements urging residents to say no to weekly rentals or to keep weekly rentals out of Vero Beach, suggesting that voting for particular candidates, or against former Vice Mayor Tracy Carroll, would accomplish that goal.

When asked to clarify the city’s position and what it has the power to do to stop vacation rentals, McGarry said, “The city’s position is that rentals of less than 30 days are illegal in its residential districts and that the City had regulations prohibiting such uses in residential districts that were in place and enforced prior to June, 2011. However, due to the Code Enforcement Board’s decision, the City is currently not enforcing the ban until the appeal of the Board’s decision is resolved.” 

In other words, the new City Council has no more power to stop vacation rentals than the old council did, and the matter of whether or not Vero has an enforceable ordinance on the books still will be decided by a court.

“If the City were to enforce the Code, any violations brought before the current Code Enforcement Board would be overturned based on the basis of the Board’s decision in the Carrolls’ case,” McGarry said.

McGarry added that the city is working with its attorneys “to investigate possible minor tweaks that can be made to improve its regulations regarding short-term rentals consistent with the existing Florida statutes.

“However, it would be much easier to make any changes, if (the) bill was enacted that removes this usurpation of municipal home rule powers by the Florida legislature,” McGarry said.

Rep. Debbie Mayfield, who previously told Vero Beach 32963 that she supports the rights of property owners to do what they wish with their property, did not respond when asked if she would support a repeal of the 2011 law in the 2014 session.

The Dec. 5 legislative delegation meeting will be held in council chambers at Vero Beach City Hall. Anyone wishing to be placed on the agenda for the meeting needs to fill out a form and return it to Rep. Mayfield’s office at Vero Beach City Hall by Nov. 22. For more information, call Andrew Liebert at (772) 778-5077.