Miami-Dade County

Showdown between Regalado and Airbnb drags on at Miami City Hall

Airbnb supporters line up to speak to city of Miami commissioners.
Airbnb supporters line up to speak to city of Miami commissioners. The Miami Herald

After weeks of posturing, Tomás Regalado and Airbnb finally have a showdown at Miami City Hall.

For hours Thursday morning, dozens of property owners who use the home-sharing platform to rent homes, cottages and rooms urged city commissioners to reject a push by Miami’s mayor to crack down on what the city deems illegal short-term rentals. On the other side, residents who say they’ve suddenly become next-door neighbors to party houses and hoteliers who say Airbnb is operating as clandestine competition pleaded for relief.

Miami-Dade County is one of the top five Airbnb destinations in the country, with 6,800 hosts renting their homes. But for the past year, Miami Beach has been fining locals who rent on platforms like Airbnb $20,000 for each violation.

“There are abusive hosts that take advantage of the platform to rent out youth hostels. I happen to live next door to one,” said Michael Taylor, who lives in Coconut Grove’s sleepy Natoma Park neighborhood. “We looked on Airbnb and found she was running 13 simultaneous ads on the platform advertising it as a party house. Grove dorms for rent. Girls gone wild. Party, party, party. Her ads were effective.”

Regalado has cast himself as the defender of Taylor and other frustrated residents. The city says any rental shorter than a month is illegal in Miami’s residential neighborhoods, and currently seeks out and fines violators on a complaints basis. About a dozen short-term rental citations have been issued since the first of October, according to city records.

Thousands of middle class families in Miami-Dade depend on home-sharing services like Airbnb to make ends meet

Airbnb commercial airing in Miami

The mayor wants the city to “vigorously” enforce its laws, and has asked commissioners to send a message to staffers Thursday that they agree by approving a resolution reaffirming the city’s position. Regalado also plans to bring legislation that would require Airbnb hosts in areas where short-term rentals are legal to register with the city and face increased regulations that Airbnb believes are onerous.

In response, Airbnb — which over the last year had about 2,300 active hosts and 140,000 tourists in Miami — has launched a blitz against Regalado and Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, who has stood side-by-side with Miami’s mayor in criticizing home-sharing as detrimental to neighborhoods. On Wednesday, the company began airing a television commercial in the Miami market criticizing Levine and Regalado for being “against middle class Miami families.”

“Thousands of middle class families in Miami-Dade depend on home-sharing services like Airbnb to make ends meet,” a narrator says. “Despite the high cost of living in Miami, the mayors want to stop families from sharing their homes to help pay their bills and mortgages.”

On Thursday, Levine responded with his own media campaign, paying personally for a banner plane over city hall, a mobile billboard, and a floating billboard just offshore with a message slapping Airbnb for “hosting Tallahassee politicians,” a reference to the company’s attempts to preempt local enforcement at the state level.

“Airbnb’s model does not work for our community, or for many others across the country,” Levine said in a statement. “Sadly, they have chosen agitation and confrontation to express their views, attacking the virtues of local control and self-determination.”

Inside City Hall, commissioners listened for hours as Airbnb hosts, most wearing a “Let us Share” sticker, talked about how renting out their homes to families and respectable visitors helps them pay their tax bills and pay for maintenance.

Grove dorms for rent. Girls gone wild. Party, party, party. Her ads were effective

Grove homeowner Michael Taylor on his neighbor’s use of Airbnb

“It’s grown to be something that’s been able to help us pay for our roof, fixes around the house, beautify our neighborhood,” said Danielle Bender, a Buena Vista homeowner who turned to home-sharing when she couldn’t afford home improvement. “I understand some of the opposition. I get why. But not all hosts are like that.”

Lori Ott, from Grove Park, said she rents rooms in her riverfront home near the health district to nursing students, doctors and patients.

“I provide a service for people that really can’t afford hotels,” she said.

But there were plenty of residents who say they’ve been forced to live next to de facto hostels. And Henry Patel, a hotelier in Miami’s Upper East Side, said Airbnb hosts are running a rogue business that undercuts hotels without enduring the same regulations or consumer protections. He said if commissioners are going to accommodate Airbnb, they ought to force hosts to endure the same red tape he goes through.

“This is just unfair to now move the shape of the rules in the middle of the game,” he said.

Miami Commissioners won’t likely vote on Regalado’s proposal until early evening at the earliest. Their vote is mostly symbolic, since the city is already enforcing the laws on its books. But it will serve as a message, one way or the other, as to how Miami plans to address Airbnb going forward.