By Rich Pollack
With state legislation prohibiting local governments from outlawing vacation rentals, Highland Beach town commissioners are instead following the lead of other communities and focusing efforts on regulating the facilities.
The move comes on the heels of efforts this spring by Florida legislators to further limit what restrictions municipalities can place on the short-term rentals.
Although those efforts failed, Town Manager Marshall Labadie and Town Attorney Glen Torcivia say they could come back next year.
Commissioners were urged to get a policy on the books now in case legislation blocking local authorities from regulating vacation rentals was approved in the future.
“Once we found out we can’t stop vacation rentals, the conversation switched to how can we regulate them to ensure they’re safe,” Labadie said. “We’re doing what we’re allowed to do under state law regarding vacation rentals.”
Commissioners are in the process of considering — and refining — a proposed ordinance that Labadie says would allow the town to require the vacation rentals are “safe for use, they don’t become blighted structures and that we have some means to enforce our regulations more clearly on them.”
Under the proposed ordinance, which town commissioners approved on first reading July 2, owners of vacation rental properties would each be required to apply for and receive a vacation rental certificate and pay a fee, the amount of which has not been determined.
The application would include the name of the property owner and property manager if different, proof of ownership and a listing of the number of bedrooms in the home as well as available parking spaces.
The ordinance also requires that all homes used as vacation rentals meet state building, fire and life safety codes and be in compliance with town zoning codes. The homes must have fire extinguishers and smoke and carbon monoxide detectors.
In addition, owners would be required to provide a posted notice or a tabbed notebook with information about the maximum allowed occupancy; the town’s noise restrictions, which require quiet hours between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m.; information about the nearest hospital and urgent care center, as well as other health and safety information.
While some commissioners are urging tougher restrictions, Torcivia and Commissioner Evalyn David are suggesting caution against going too far.
“If you get too aggressive are you infringing on the legislature?” Torcivia asked.
David pointed out that legislators made it clear that there are limits to municipal authority when it comes to vacation rentals.
“The best we can do is some sort of regulation,” David said. “Make people register, have a fee and have the ability to fine them if they don’t register.”
Commissioner Barry Donaldson said it’s important for the town to take action sooner than later in order to make it more difficult for the state to interfere with the local government’s ability to regulate in its own backyard.
“It’s important for us to understand that the overarching principle here is home rule,” he said. “It’s what we’re all about.”
Donaldson said that the Florida League of Cities has been concerned about the state’s actions regarding vacation rentals.
“To that end it compels us to address this from a life safety standpoint,” he said. “Until the state happens to act, we need to exert our home rule and put something in place.”
During discussion of the issue, commissioners heard from one resident who suggested they consider a broader inspection program for all rental units to ensure they meet health and safety standards. While there appeared to be support from some on the commissioner for the idea, the consensus was to bring the issue up at a later date and keep the current focus on vacation rentals.