City of Miami Proposes Crackdown on Airbnb-Style Rentals

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At the beginning of last week, the room-sharing company Airbnb seemed to have a good relationship with the City of Miami — more harmonious than Miami Beach, where city officials have passed an ever-increasing series of restrictions on short-term rentals.

But then City of Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado last week proposed an ordinance cracking down on Airbnb-style "vacation" rentals. Regalado's new law would ban short-term rentals in roughly two-thirds of the city. It would also subject any Airbnb, Homeaway, or other temporary home rentals in the remaining third to some fairly strict licensing requirements.

"We thought we were sitting at the table with the city," Airbnb spokesman Ben Breit says. "But now it's like we ducked out to the bathroom for a second and came back to find that the table is now gone."

Regalado did not immediately respond to New Times' call seeking comment. The item had originally been slated for the City Commission's February 23 meeting, but has since been pulled from the agenda.

If passed, the mayor's ordinance would ban rentals shorter than 30 days in any area of the city with a "T3," or "suburban" zoning designation. According to the city's zoning atlas, the area includes huge swaths of the north, west, and southwest sections of town. (Advertising a short-term rental in one of those zones online or on a mobile app such as Airbnb's would also be illegal.)

Airbnb rentals in the other zoning areas would be permitted — but property owners would have to apply for a certificate of compliance. That would mean sending the city a host of documents, including a copy of the deed to the owner's home, a phone number accessible 24/7, proof of registration with the Florida Department of Revenue and Miami-Dade's sales and rental tax departments, proof of licensure with the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation, and other documentation.

Unregulated vacation rentals "can create a serious impact on the health, safety, welfare, and quality of life of the persons directly affected by the rentals and the community they are located in," the ordinance says.

According to the proposed law, rental properties would also be subject to city zoning codes, including laws regulating the number of occupants per room and per square foot, the size and upkeep of pools on the property, and garbage storage. If approved, an owner would be legally responsible for monitoring his or her vacation-rental property around the clock and would be required to live within an hour's drive of the property. Violators could be subject to $250 and $500 fines and could have their licenses stripped.

Rental homes would become subject to yearly city inspections too.

All of that, Airbnb says, amounts to an extreme burden on the typical vacation renter. Breit says the average homeowner in Miami makes about $6,000 per year renting on his platform.

"Nobody is quitting their day jobs because of this," he says. "These are regular folks, so whatever the city's process is, it should be fair, simple, and clear. But that's not what you're looking at here. I say this all the time: We want regulation. We want to be taxed. But we have serious concerns about this."

It's surprising Regalado would choose to dip his toe into the confusing waters of Airbnb regulation — the City of Miami Beach has been battling renters, homeowners, hoteliers, and the home-sharing company for most of the last year: Rental periods shorter than six months and one day have long been illegal in most residential parts of town, and the city began levying $20,000 fines on violators this year. So far, it has nailed property owners for more than $3 million.

But Breit says there's another reason Airbnb is so concerned about Regalado's ordinance on the mainland: The bill's text is almost a word-for-word photocopy of an ordinance passed to regulate vacation rentals in Fort Lauderdale.

"There are instances in this ordinance where they even forgot to change things from 'Fort Lauderdale's,'" Breit says.

In fact, the ordinance was clearly copied and pasted: One section quotes an official adoption date of August 18, 2015, the day Fort Lauderdale's law passed. Another section appears to have been deleted and left blank by accident:

a. The residential property has an effective and valid license as a Vacation Rental classification of public lodging establishment issued by the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulations prior to August 18, 2015; and,
b. The residential property is not in violation of any section of the City Code; and,
c. An application for registration of the residential property as a Vacation Rental has
be filed pursuant to section [no section cited] and all applicable fees have been paid...

Breit adds Airbnb estimates that only 5 percent of Fort Lauderdale's online vacation listings are properly registered with the city — and says that's because the rules are way too difficult to follow. He wishes Miami would work with the company to help regulate the platform smoothly. In Chicago, for example, the company incorporated a city-code application into its mobile app. That, Breit says, could be a far simpler approach to regulating Airbnb than tossing zoning regulations at homeowners. He also says the company is willing to negotiate where rentals should be allowed.

"We do not come in saying, 'One size fits all,'" he says. "We know Miami is different from New York, Chicago, even Miami Beach. Cities have different needs and priorities, and we're willing to work with them on an individual level."

Instead, Breit says, Regalado pitched the ordinance without consulting Airbnb.

Here's a draft of the proposed law:

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