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Florida Legislature Grapples with Disagreements Over Short-Term Rental Regulation

By Michael Klazema on 2/21/2018

 The Florida legislature, responding to growing concerns around the state about the influx of AirBnB and similar short-term rental providers, has attempted to find a way forward on instituting regulations for this burgeoning aspect of the tourism industry. The bills in question have met varying levels of resistance. After a series of revisions, the bill with the best chance of passing, House Bill 773, stalled in committee. At the heart of the issue: whether to allow local municipalities to enact their own rules and regulations on AirBnB-style rentals. 

Several major areas of Florida, including Orlando and the most populous county in the state, Miami-Dade, have passed local laws to preserve the sanctity of communities and protect rental operators and guests. Miami-Dade requires owners to ensure potential guests are not on any sex offender registries nationwide. Backgroundchecks.com provides an all-inclusive search of sex offender databases, including important details such as convictions and photographs, that fulfills such a requirement. The legislation advanced in the Capitol would preempt and replace these rules.

Similar local conflicts arose with ride-sharing service Uber due to a patchwork of local regulations scattered across the state. Proponents of preemption — AirBnB included — argue state-level rules create uniformity, reduce confusion, and streamline the incorporation of these rentals into the Floridian tourism sector. Opponents worry this will leave communities unable to limit or control the types of rentals occurring in their communities.

Even as unrelated legislation seeks to expand background checks in other areas, state lawmakers did not seem to make such checks a priority for rentals. Little to none of the proposed language focuses on concerns about the types of individuals renting these properties. Background checks would remain the domain of AirBnB and the rental operators themselves. 

The company's website states they will only check "certain databases" for criminal backgrounds if they have enough information available from the user. They also state they immediately remove users who throw up certain red flags such as a drug-related felony or a violent conviction. This service is far from foolproof and can miss potential indicators such as active arrest warrants. The company only checks the OFAC terrorist watch-list if enough user information is available. backgroundchecks.com offers a thorough national security check that includes the GSA Excluded Parties list, the FBI's Most Wanted, and the list of Interpol-flagged fugitives.

With HB 773 stuck in committee and the end of the legislative session on the horizon, local communities will remain in control of regulating AirBnB rentals for now. The burden to ensure a guest's clean criminal background will remain split between AirBnB and owner-operators. As more municipalities decide how to approach this industry disruptor, it remains to be seen if the state government will take up the cause of better vetting for guests.

Sources:
https://www.airbnb.com/help/article/1308/does-airbnb-perform-background-checks-on-members
http://www.pnj.com/story/news/2018/02/01/vote-down-rentals-bill-puts-kids-danger-guestview/1086345001/
http://www.orlandosentinel.com/news/politics/political-pulse/os-vacation-rentals-florida-house-20180213-story.html
http://www.miamiherald.com/news/business/article179398156.html

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