Councilman works to address rentals in quiet neighborhoods

Councilman works to address rentals in quiet neighborhoods

Jim Love’s last hurrah could be one of the most significant – next to co-sponsoring the Human Rights Ordinance – of his eight-year career as City Councilman for District 14.

While Love has several positive initiatives to his credit on behalf of his constituents – including the opening of the John Gorrie Dog Park, the Riverside Avondale Community Garden, the Boone Park Playground, the Murray Hill Four Corners Playground, among others – creating legislation to curb whole-house short-term vacation rentals may be the most critical for his neighbors in the Riverside Avondale Historic District.

Love recently served on the Short-Term Vacation Rentals Special Committee, originally chaired by District 11 Councilman Danny Becton, to recommend legislation to regulate short-stay vacation rentals in the City of Jacksonville.

After four meetings, the Office of General Counsel (OGC) was charged by Love, who was named committee chair after Becton withdrew after the third meeting, to develop legislation that would address dealing with bad behavior from short-term whole-house renters while not stifling the income opportunities of homeowners who often rent a room or the whole house to help make ends meet.

At the committee’s last meeting on Dec. 6, 2018, the OGC was asked to consider a registration process; compliance and enforcement of the laws; operational restrictions; an appeal mechanism for revocation of license; neighborhood notices upon application; penalties for violations, and other issues.

Before the committee’s findings and recommendation could be released for review, Council President Aaron Bowman terminated the committee on Feb. 22, 2019, stating his action was due to the State Legislature’s focus on short-term rentals.

State bills in progress

Currently there are four bills in the Florida Senate and two in the House that have been filed and introduced for legislative session this year in Tallahassee. Senate Bill 824 and House Bill 987 would be a worst-case scenario for homeowners in neighborhoods where houses are often cheek-to-jowl. 

The bills call for the state to regulate all rentals, overriding all local ordinances, and would remove any grandfathered local rules. The bills would also prohibit local governments from imposing occupancy limits. They also favor the residential property rights of owners who use their homes as vacation rentals over the rights of adjacent neighbors.

Love said despite the disbanding of the special committee he is taking up the banner to draft a bill that, if enacted prior to any action taken by the State Legislation, would “hopefully” grandfather the City Council legislation to protect homeowners in the Historic District.

Two other Senate bills, 812 and 814, provide an exception allowing local governments to adopt regulations specific to rentals in single-family residences where the owner does not occupy a portion of the residence. These bills would also allow grandfathered cities to amend their ordinances if their changes are less restrictive toward regulating vacation rentals.

Senate Bill 1196 expands the definition of transient public lodging establishment to include a group of units in a dwelling, while House Bill 1129 revises classification criteria for vacation rentals. All the bills address vacation rental license requirements and regulation of hosting platforms, such as Airbnb. 

None of the state bills will solve Jacksonville’s problem dealing with out-of-towners who rent homes in residential neighborhoods for a weekend of hearty partying.

Jacksonville’s bill underway

Love is hoping to get the jump on the state by drafting his own bill for Jacksonville.

“The bills in Tallahassee are pretty liberal, pro-Airbnb. I’m thinking they won’t get passed. I don’t think they should [get passed] because every place is different. Miami is different from Ocala, which is different from Jacksonville and, actually, the Beach is different from us. Having different laws in different places is okay,” said Love. 

“Legislation will be brought forward, but it won’t be by the committee, it will be by me. I feel that after going through the committee and seeing a lot of the issues, I’m probably the best one to bring this forward,” he said. “I want it to be good enough to make the citizens of my district, and others, happy.” 

Love received his initial draft from the OGC in mid-March and is making changes before he introduces it to City Council.

“I don’t have much time left; I have to move [on it] and am hoping to get it done in the next 30 days. The requirements are the big deal and that’s where I’ve done the most chopping,” he said. “We need to get something in place that legitimizes what is already going on so we can collect taxes. But we need someone responsible on-site to take care of it, unless it’s in a commercial area, to ensure that everything is fine.”

Love said he’s had complaints from residents on Pine Street and on Challen Avenue about people who rented the houses and were too loud, but “I’ve had zero complaints about homes where the owners live in them and rent out a bedroom or two. What my bill will do will allow people who live there, or have a house sitter live there, monitor the activity in residential areas,” he said.

Hoping for relief

One Avondale resident, Dee Vaugeois, has been dealing with badly-behaving weekend renters for several years. She posted a question earlier this year on a neighborhood networking website asking for advice on how to get rid of an absentee property owner who rents homes on her street for short stays via Airbnb. “Tired of having complaints fall short and nothing being done to address the issues,” she posted.

Vaugeois indicated the short-stay renters routinely left trash on her lawn as well as the lawn of the rental home, and parked on lawns and driveways of other homeowners, parked in front of fire hydrants, and parked three abreast across the street blocking all access. Underage drinking, loud music and yelling routinely occurs after 10 p.m. She said this has been going on for a couple of years and the property owner, who does not live in the Riverside/Avondale area, is not responsive. Vaugeois has also lodged complaints with Airbnb and received no response.

She has also called the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, filed complaints with the City’s Code Enforcement Division, contacted Councilman Love’s office, and shared her story with Riverside Avondale Preservation.

Love hopes his bill will address the problems that Vaugeois and others have been experiencing with absentee homeowners.

“There’s certainly a place for Airbnb, but there’s a good way to do it and a bad way to do it. I do think the neighbors have some property rights, so we have to pass a law that won’t trample the property rights of the neighbors,” said Love. “In a residential area, you need to make sure the owner or a designated person lives there and make sure there’s not a kegger or a wedding or a girls’ night out in someone’s house in the middle of a residential area.

“I think we should start by being conservative and see how it goes. Fortunately, Jacksonville is not a big market [for Airbnb rentals], but particularly in Riverside and Avondale, Springfield and the Beach, there is a market. We need to make it legal to make sure people aren’t wondering if they are following the rules or not,” he concluded.

By Kate A. Hallock
Resident Community News

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