Unlike Miami Beach Mayor Levine, 94 Percent of South Floridians Want Legal Airbnb

Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine might genuinely be the nation's closest Democratic relative to Donald Trump. Levine can't stop himself from tweeting out garbage: He spent last week calling the right-leaning Sunshine State News "#FakeJournalism," for one. Then he spent Friday on an emoji-laden Twitter tirade against Airbnb, the home-sharing company that Levine is working hard to ban from the city.

"MB doesn't want what your selling!!!!" [sic] Levine tweeted directly at Airbnb's corporate account.

But new data shows Levine and the Miami Beach City Commission might not have their stories straight: According to a February poll from Mason and Dixon, a full 94 percent of South Floridians want Airbnb (and similar home-sharing services) to operate legally in their hometowns. In total, 93 percent of Floridians want legal home-sharing apps.

Despite the data, both Miami Beach and the City of Miami have proposed increasingly draconian crackdowns on services like Airbnb. The new poll only fuels critics who argue that city governments are acting to protect wealthy hotel owners rather than average citizens.

"This polling confirms that the sharing economy has emerged as a core driver of Florida's economy and culture," Airbnb's Florida policy director, Tom Martinelli, said in a prepared statement. "Across every corner of the state, Floridians have expressed clear and overwhelming support for the rights of their friends and neighbors to responsibly share their homes for supplemental income."

For the poll, Mason and Dixon called 625 registered voters (a seemingly small sample size) between February 24 and 28. The pollsters say the study has a margin of error of +/- 4.

Respondents resoundingly told local governments to quit meddling with their local property rights: 65 percent of South Floridians said local governments shouldn't regulate vacation-style rentals at all. (That's higher than the state average of 61 percent.) A majority of South Floridians also said vacation rentals were a "very important" component of the local economy.

(Local residents were slightly more measured when asked if they thought "online platforms, such as Uber, Lyft, Airbnb, and Homeaway" helped the economy: Only 42 percent said they thought the apps helped.)

Naturally, 97 percent of Floridians aged 18 to 34, who use Airbnb more heavily than folks in older demographics, said they wanted legal vacation rentals in Florida.

The hard data, however, contradicts the PR blitz coming from Levine, who is adamant that everyone in Miami Beach hates short-term rentals. (In Levine's defense, the poll didn't specifically say how Miami Beach residents feel about the issue.)

Rentals shorter than six months and one day have long been illegal in residentially zoned parts of the barrier island. After the Miami Beach Commission ratcheted up fines for violators to $20,000 a pop last year, the city said in March that it had levied more than $3.2 million in Airbnb-style fines. (That number has likely increased significantly since the city released that figure in December.) The city has also tried to scare away would-be home-sharing customers by using a host of silly propaganda ads.

But during the battle over those fines (which might actually not be legal according to state law), Airbnb representatives told New Times that the City of Miami was more accommodating to vacation-rental hosts. But the company told New Times that the city's position changed out of the blue last month, when Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado proposed a heavy crackdown on Airbnb rentals that appeared to have been literally copied-and-pasted from a 2015 Fort Lauderdale ordinance.

Miami, of course, has long been one of Airbnb's top five markets. The company stands to lose a flood of business if local officials zone out home-sharing.

Airbnb's representatives have also complained that officials across Miami (and especially in Miami Beach) refuse to sit down with the company to talk about how to best regulate the app. While Levine claims the company is biting into his town's hotel industry, Airbnb disagrees — and also says its customers spent $50 million at local restaurants in 2015.

After Airbnb asked Levine on Twitter Thursday to talk with the company, he sassed the company and tweeted out a bunch of crying-face emojis in response:
The latest polling, however, appears to be on Airbnb's side.

"Florida lawmakers should follow the lead of their constituents and voters who have made their pro-home-sharing stances overwhelmingly clear," Airbnb's Martinelli said. "Mayors like Tomás Regalado of Miami and Philip Levine of Miami Beach who are pursuing extreme and restrictive short-term rental laws should come to the table and consider common-sense regulations consistent with the desires of their residents."

Update: Levine has responded to the poll in characteristic fashion, tweeting that he "agrees" but that the 6 percent of South Floridians who said they don't want Airbnb "live in Miami Beach!!!"

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Jerry Iannelli is a former staff writer for Miami New Times from 2015 to March 2020. He graduated with honors from Temple University. He then earned a master's degree in journalism from Columbia University.

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