Miami Mayor Tomás Regalado doubled down Thursday on a growing fight with Airbnb, saying he wants the city to crack down on property owners who illegally rent out homes and apartments to tourists through the popular website.
“The pricey lobbyists from Airbnb will tell us that we can make a deal. That these people are good for business,” said Regalado, who argues that daily rentals impose a nuisance in the city’s sleepy neighborhoods. “There’s nothing to negotiate.”
Currently, in residential areas of the city, daily and weekly rentals are illegal under Miami’s zoning code, according to a 2015 opinion from the city’s zoning administrator. The city enforces the law on a complaints-basis, sending code officers out to homes to cite properties after people call 311 to report their neighbors.
But efforts to follow through can be complicated, said Regalado, since code officers need to witness an offense in order to pursue a case. It’s not unusual for guests to refuse to come to the door, he said.
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Regalado, who recently pulled back on legislation to reinforce Miami’s ban on short-term rentals in residential neighborhoods and strictly regulate the business elsewhere, thinks the solution lies in proactively going after Airbnb hosts. He proposed a resolution to city commissioners Thursday that would ensure the city “vigorously” enforces its zoning laws.
The item was deferred by commissioners for two weeks, with downtown-area Commissioner Ken Russell in Japan.
There’s nothing to negotiate
Mayor Tomás Regalado
The fight with Regalado is only the latest complication for the popular tourism website. Miami Beach imposes $20,000 fines for illegal short-term rentals. Meanwhile, a tax agreement with the county has stalled.
According to a Miami Herald review of Airbnb data, about 2,300 people in the city have been active hosts on the home-sharing platform for the past year. Those users were responsible for hosting about 140,300 tourists who visited the city between February 2016 and February 2017, staying an average of four days.
“I can’t believe the mayor has these ideas,” Lazaro Vento, who owns and rents two houses in the Design District through Airbnb, said as he walked away from City Hall. “He doesn’t know what [cracking down] would do to the city.”
It’s unclear exactly how aggressive Miami’s efforts are at the moment. Orlando Diez, the city’s interim code compliance director, said complaints are frequent, particularly in The Roads, but couldn’t immediately provide data on complaints and citations.
The dispute over short-term rentals is growing in profile. Wendy Kallergis, president of the Greater Miami and the Beaches Hotel Association, traveled to City Hall Thursday and said Miami is now a priority in the hotel industry’s fight against unregulated competition.
We’re just trying to get sensible legislation on the books so people can follow the rules
Tom Martinelli, Airbnb
“We were disappointed [that the issue wasn’t heard] but we will be back,” Kallergis said afterward.
So, too, will Airbnb representatives and hosts. Tom Martinelli, head of public policy for the company in Florida, gathered with more than a dozen hosts outside City Hall Thursday morning and encouraged them all to mark March 23 on their calendars.
He said the company and its hosts don’t want special treatment, and are open to discussing regulations that are fair for everyone, including neighbors. Martinelli said Airbnb has discussed possible legislation with Miami officials, but hasn’t proposed anything specific.
If commissioners do plan to craft a new law legalizing the business, Regalado urged them Thursday to grant blanket amnesty to those property owners who are also illegally renting out their homes outside of the Airbnb platform. Describing those people as blue-collar families in Little Havana and Allapattah, Regalado suggested commissioners would be hypocrites if they only carved out exceptions for a business with a brand.
Martinelli told the Miami Herald that the company doesn’t have a problem with Regalado’s position.
“We’re just trying to get sensible legislation on the books so people can follow the rules,” he said.