Vacation rental bill narrowly passes Florida House committee

A bill that would preempt local regulation of vacation rental properties squeaked through a House committee on Thursday, after lawmakers added provisions related to sexual predators and offenders.

The bill (HB 773), sponsored by Rep. Mike La Rosa, R-St. Cloud, would negate local vacation-rental ordinances passed since June 1, 2011. But it would let cities and counties impose new regulations so long as the rules applied equally to all residential properties, including private homes as well as vacation rentals.

»RELATED: The latest in Florida political news

The House Government Accountability Committee voted 13-11 in favor of the bill. After the vote, committee Chairman Matt Caldwell, R-North Fort Myers, said more testimony and amendments will be considered when the bill is next heard in the Commerce Committee.

La Rosa said vacation rentals are an important part of Florida’s tourism industry and his legislation is aimed at curbing a proliferation of local-government regulations, which he said are hindering rental activity.

“At the end of the day, I believe this is a private property discussion,” La Rosa said. “I believe if someone owns a property they shouldn’t be governed out of using that property for whatever specific reasons.”

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But local governments have objected to restrictions on their ability to regulate rental properties.

La Rosa supported two amendments that would require notification of law enforcement, nearby residents and hotel guests if sexual offenders or predators rent vacation homes or hotel rooms.

The committee endorsed a provision from Rep. Jay Fant, R-Jacksonville, that would require sexual offenders who stay at vacation rentals to notify local sheriff’s offices at least 48 hours before the stay. It also would require vacation rental owners to give 24-hour notice to residents who live within 1,000 feet of the properties that sex offenders will be staying at the rentals.

The committee also approved an amendment from Rep. David Santiago, R-Deltona, that would require notification of all hotel guests if a sexual predator is staying at a property. It would require the hotel to ask guests at check-in if they are sexual predators.

Rep. Cary Pigman, R-Avon Park, questioned how the second provision “would work,” noting it would mean he, his wife and children would have to answer the question as they checked into a hotel at Disney World.

“While I laud your efforts, I get bogged down in how we would execute this without making Florida become the weirdest state in the world to come to and get a hotel room,” Pigman said.

Santiago said the provision was being added because opponents of the vacation rental legislation have argued it could lead to sexual predators renting rooms or houses without any notification.

“It’s only in response to the opponents and trying to see if we satisfy that concern,” Santiago said.

La Rosa said he “absolutely” supported the measure and he may further revise the bill to allow rental homes or hotel owners to refuse to accept sexual predators as guests.

“This would make things a little weird, but it would make it safe,” La Rosa said about Santiago’s provision.

The meeting became contentious when Rep. Jayer Williamson, R-Pace, made a procedural motion that forced an immediate vote on the bill, cutting off debate on other pending amendments and eliminating any opportunity for the public to testify.

“This is completely unorthodox,” said Rep. Joseph Abruzzo, D-Boynton Beach, adding not allowing public testimony “is absolutely wrong.”

A similar Senate bill (SB 1400), sponsored by Rep. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, is awaiting a hearing in the Senate Appropriations Committee.

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