Proposed bill on short-term vacation rentals leaves everyone unhappy

Proposed bill on short-term vacation rentals leaves everyone unhappy
A resident on Cook Street in Avondale said bags of mulch have been in the yard of this short-term vacation rental home for over a year, bags of rock for three months and bags of garbage for several weeks when this was taken in late April.

Every politician knows this paraphrased quote by heart: You can please some of the people all of the time, and all of the people some of the time, but you cannot please all of the people all of the time. 

District 14 Councilman Jim Love may know it better than others if the public outcry around his proposed legislation to regulate short-term vacation rentals (STVR) is any indication. In this case, it seems neither Draft 1 of Bill 2019-238 or the proposed substitute will please both STVR hosts and their neighbors.

Love was a member of the City Council’s Special Committee on Short Term Rentals which met several times in late 2018, heard presentations from the Office of General Counsel (OGC) about various aspects of STVR regulation, and took testimony from representatives of the STVR operator industry, such as Airbnb and VRBO, from individual proponents and opponents of the industry, and from representatives of neighborhood groups. 

Since the Special Committee did not issue a final report, Love felt it important to introduce legislation before the state legislators created regulations that perhaps would not address the issues rampant in the historic districts. He also wanted to get it accomplished before his term on City Council ended June 30.

Currently, anyone in Duval County operating as an Airbnb or VRBO host in a neighborhood zoned for residential is doing so illegally. “I am not against STVRs,” Love said. “I’m trying to legalize them.” In doing so, the City would also be able to collect the Tourism Development Tax, also known as a bed tax, of 6% on each stay.

Additionally, during the Special Committee’s meetings, a negative aspect of STVRs came to light and Love wanted to address that as well. Some single-family property owners who are adjacent to STVR properties that are not owner-occupied are faced with the unintended consequences of guests who come to party hearty during their stay and leave a swath of garbage behind.

Dee Vaugeois lives on a very short street in Avondale. With just eight houses on Cook Street, 25% are run as short-term vacation rentals. Vaugeois spoke up at three recent meetings – a town hall sponsored by Riverside Avondale Preservation May 6, a Planning Commission hearing May 9, and a public hearing before City Council May 15 – to beg for regulations that will hold STVR property owners accountable for their guests’ actions. She cited a variety of issues – from underage drinking and loud parties to illegal parking and neglected garbage – that she and her five neighbors have faced for the past several years.

In response to Vaugeois and other residents dealing with similar situations, Love’s first draft of the bill appeared to come down hard on STVR owners. His bill would establish an STVR registration requirement and a $50 annual fee; it would require insurance, inspection by the City’s Fire Prevention Division, and notation on the property’s records with the Property Appraiser’s Office. It would also require a Certificate of Use and compliance with building, zoning, property safety and fire codes. 

The more egregious requirements, in the eyes of the STVR hosts, were off-street parking requirements (an issue in the historic neighborhoods), limits to two adults per bedroom and three bedrooms per STVR, and, finally, owner or agent occupancy in STRV properties within a residential zoning district or one that is primarily residential (which may include some commercial and/or office uses).

Bill revision swings wildly

Based on vociferous objections by STVR hosts from all over Duval County at the May 6 community meeting and the May 9 Planning Commission meetings, Love tweaked the bill and noted the changes would be worked into a substitute bill. He shared those changes at the May 15 Council meeting, stating “After listening to the concerns of the public, I asked OGC to draft a simplified version that will hopefully alleviate concerns.”

The new bill will not require an owner or manager onsite but will require a local contact person to be able to quickly resolve any issues. The bill will retain the $50 annual fee requirement but will do away with the Certificate of Use, proof of insurance, training, the limit on bedrooms and onsite parking.

Although there was no formal public hearing on May 15, during general public comments at the end of the Council session eight people spoke on the issue. “I feel this is being fast-tracked and interested parties have not been notified except through social media. I urge you to take a step back and send the bill out to the STR platforms so they can distribute it to the thousand hosts for notification,” said Jennifer Adamson of Springfield.

Scott Lara, manager of Air Sea Travel, said he applauded Love for making the changes “because in its previous form it will hurt tourism in Jacksonville” and asked Council to work with the tourism industry on the bill.

Another Springfield resident, Jenna Reed, said “Most property owners are happy to register and pay taxes; most probably had no idea renting one bedroom was a business,” but also expressed concerns about publishing the addresses [on the Property Appraiser’s site] of non-owner-occupied STVRs.

Objecting to the revisions, Vaugeois said she was in full agreement with the original bill “as it protects the residents; the changes only protect the businesses and not the residents. The problem is absentee owners. Neighbors need to be better protected,” and opposed the changes as not restrictive enough to protect the people who live next to the STVR homes.

At the end of the comment period, Council President Aaron Bowman stated the Land Use and Zoning Committee would likely hear it June 18 and it could possibly come before City Council June 25 for a final vote.

By Kate A. Hallock
Resident Community News

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