Miami Beach Might Crack Down Harder on Airbnb, Spend Fines on Affordable Housing

Miami Beach — a paradise for both tourists and the people who cater to tourists — remains one of the most repressive cities in America when it comes to room-sharing. In most of the city's residential zones, short-term rentals have long been illegal. Lately, the city has dropped the hammer on Airbnb users, jacking up fines to $20,000 a pop this year. The city has levied more than $3.2 million in fines since March.

But that's apparently not enough for the city: Miami Beach might soon force short-term renters to check in with the government before advertising any of their properties online.

At the city's next commission meeting December 12, commissioners will debate cracking down even harder on the few short-term renters who are able to do so legally. Vice Mayor Joy Malakoff, along with Commissioners John Elizabeth Alemán and Michael Grieco, are proposing that anyone advertising a "transient" (or short-term) rental must first register with the city or else receive a warning. If renters continue to flout the rules, they'll face a $1,000 fine.

Commissioners will also discuss a separate ordinance that would use money collected from people caught "advertising" or renting their properties illegally to help the homeless. Advertising, in this case, mainly means using Airbnb.

According to city documents, the rule change is meant to serve as a failsafe and second layer of fines to make it even more expensive for short-term renters to rent out their places illegally in Miami Beach:

"This modified proposed Ordinance will further prohibit those persons seeking to financial[ly] exploit the rental of single and multi-family residences in those unpermitted zoning districts, thereby prohibiting the creation of adverse living conditions for the City residents, by preventing excessive number of guest(s), vehicle(s) and noise that tragically impact these quiet residential communities, and devastates the residential character of single-family and multi-family neighborhoods."
The ordinance was proposed in July but was held for revisions until this month. The measure could be used to clamp down on people renting out properties legally too. Under city law, the shortest a room can be rented out legally is for six months plus one day.

The city government seems actively hostile toward anyone caught making money from Airbnb-style renting — a measure like this is all but certain to slow the pace of other short-term rentals in Miami Beach.

The new ordinance could also face a challenge under state law: According to Florida statutes, it became illegal for local governments to restrict short-term rentals in 2011. This prevents Miami Beach from passing a new short-term rental ban outright — but a system of fines such as the one proposed next week could narrowly avoid getting voided by the state. Legal short-term renters in Miami are already required to apply for business tax permits, and the new law would simply amend the city's existing regulations.

But there's a question as to whether the city's new $20,000 fines comply with state law, and critics might cry foul again if the new measure passes. Short-term rentals are legal only in the city's highest-traffic tourist zones along the water and in South Beach.

In addition, the city is proposing spending 80 percent of the money taken from Airbnb-style renters on affordable-housing initiatives and 20 percent on help for the homeless. Mayor Philip Levine and Commissioner Alemán brought up the idea at a meeting this past October — after the city's Finance and Citywide Projects Committee discussed the item November 18, the committee now recommends that money taken from short-term renters be stashed in two separate funds.

The commission agenda items don't specify which projects the money may be spent on.

Though the money may go to a good cause, at least one anonymous short-term renter told New Times in August that he thought the fines did nothing but protect the hotel industry from fair competition.

"I'd understand if they wanted to ban weekend rentals," the landlord said, "but this is completely unreasonable. It's just so over-the-top. It just shows the hotel lobby has a much stronger hold on this administration."

Here are the two proposed ordinances:

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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.