The issues created by short-term rentals facilitated by Airbnb and its competitors have been among the most pressing problem areas for condominium and homeowners associations during the past several years. While most community association governing documents prohibit short-term rentals, the enforcement of these restrictions has proved to be challenging and costly, and as a result, many association boards of directors and property managers are implementing strategic countermeasures and monitoring tactics.
South Florida has been particularly affected, given the area’s standing as a major international tourist destination, and the Miami market has ranked among the top five home-sharing markets in the U.S., according to Airbnb.
A number of South Florida municipalities have adopted new measures to enforce restrictions on these nontraditional rentals. In particular, the City of Miami Beach has been leading the charge with some of the most stringent regulations and fines in the country.
Miami Beach ordinances allow for vacation and short-term rentals (less than six months and one day) in certain zoning districts, but they are banned in all single-family homes and in a number of zoning districts. Fines for violators previously ranged from $500 to $7,500, but they were increased dramatically in March 2016 by the city commission to $20,000 for first-time violators.
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In December, the Miami Beach city commission also adopted an ordinance requiring that homeowners who wish to list their residences on Airbnb and other sites must first submit an affidavit to the city affirming that their property lies in an area approved for short-term rentals and that they have obtained a business tax receipt and resort tax account. If they live in a condominium, they will be required to show city officials proof that their condo association allows short-term rentals. Violators will receive an initial fine of $1,000 followed by fines of $5,000, $7,500 and $10,000 for subsequent violations.
While municipal restrictions and enforcement measures against short-term rentals vary greatly, community associations are now implementing their own pragmatic policies to enforce their governing documents.
For associations with governing documents and bylaws that allow for short-term rentals in their community, noise and nuisance disruptions and complaints need to be addressed with a strong fining system to ensure that they are kept to a minimum. Airbnb and the other rental sites offer extensive tools for hosts to vet their prospective tenants, and fines against unit owners will help to motivate them to do everything that they possibly can to avoid disruptive guests.
Some associations may consider adopting new amendments, bylaws or rules to limit the number of nights a residence may be rented, which can offer a level of flexibility for owners while also avoiding the possibility of creating a revolving door of unfettered short-term guests.
For associations with governing documents that prohibit these nontraditional rentals altogether, the implementation of a clear fining policy is essential. This will typically entail the adoption of a new rule in which all of the fees and fines are delineated.
Monitoring to identify and catch the violators will also play a key role. Savvy owners have been known to sneak their transient guests into the property by advising security that their visit is authorized. As such, enhanced vigilance and guest-screening measures may be necessary. Some associations are developing and implementing new registration forms for use with guests and tenants along with written assurances and noncompensation statements indicating that they are not paying for their stays.
In addition to these and other measures, a number of new service providers have now sprouted to help associations and other landlords monitor and detect listings in the online home sharing sites. These service providers use automated and proprietary search applications and algorithms to find and report listings in their clients’ communities and properties. Once the listings are identified, some offer additional investigation and enforcement services to assist associations and landlords in taking the necessary steps to prevent the rentals.
By creating fair policies and combining them with effective monitoring and enforcement measures, associations will be better equipped to address short-term rentals in the manner that makes the most sense for their particular community.
Roberto C. Blanch is a partner with the South Florida law firm Siegfried, Rivera, Hyman, Lerner, De La Torre, Mars & Sobel, P.A. who focuses on community association law and is based at the firm’s Coral Gables office. The firm represents more than 800 associations throughout Florida, and it also maintains offices in Broward and Palm Beach counties. RBlanch@SRHL-Law.com, www.FloridaHOALawyerBlog.com, 305-442-3334.
▪ This opinion piece was written for Business Monday in the Miami Herald and does not necessarily reflect the views of the newspaper.