Miami Beach Might Fine Airbnb and Other Platforms for Illegal Short-Term Rentals

Miami Beach has established itself as one of the most anti-Airbnb cities in the country, banning short-term rentals across much of the island and issuing $20,000 fines for illegal listings. But so far, those fines have been aimed at property owners, not platforms like Airbnb.

Last week, city commissioners moved to change that. After collecting just over $100,000 of the more than $1 million in fines it has handed out, the city is now looking to go after Airbnb, VRBO, HomeAway, and other companies that list rentals that are operating illegally.

"To the platforms, this is a huge deal that all the sudden they're on the line about this," Mayor Dan Gelber said during last Wednesday's commission meeting. "And we haven't touched them. We've been only going after the landlords."

Indeed, Airbnb spokesman Ben Breit says the company has "serious concerns with the proposal." However, he adds, "we have initiated conversations with the administration, and we look forward to working towards a solution that mutually benefits the city, residents, and hosts."

Under the new rules, which passed on first reading last Wednesday, short-term rental listings would be required to display a city-issued business tax receipt number and the resort tax certificate number. Platforms like Airbnb wouldn't be allowed to list properties without that information. A first-time violation would cost a platform $1,000. Subsequent violations would net fines of up to $5,000, though that amount could go up.

“It may be advantageous to increase the fine to make sure that it’s not something that's the cost of doing business,” Chief Deputy City Attorney Alek Boksner said at the meeting.

Gelber said he expects the city will get into litigation "at some point" over the new rules. But he said it's worth doing anyway because he doesn't think Miami Beach's previous approach, in which legal rentals are required to go through a licensing process and illegal rentals net harsh fines, was enough of a deterrent. If it were at least 60 percent effective, he said, he wouldn't be pushing the new rules.

"I don't feel like we've been giving our citizens enough protection as is," Gelber said. "So this is that next step."

A public hearing on the ordinance is set for September 12. Different polls have found varying levels of support for short-term renting in South Florida. One concluded that 94 percent of southeast Floridians want Airbnb and other companies to be allowed to operate legally in their hometowns.

But another (conducted by a lobbyist who represents the Greater Miami and the Beaches Hotel Association in the Florida Legislature) found that 49 percent of Miami-Dade voters did not think their neighbors should be allowed to rent out their properties on a short-term basis.
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Brittany Shammas is a former staff writer at Miami New Times. She covered education in Naples before taking a job at the South Florida Sun Sentinel. She joined New Times in 2016.
Contact: Brittany Shammas