Flagler BOCC will Continue Short-term Vacation Rental Ordinance for Staff Rework

There were many issues raised during the public comment portion, triggering County Manager Craig Coffey to suggest that staff had a lot of work to do to make this a good ordinance.

Palm Coast, FL – November 3, 2014 – The Flagler Board of County Commissioners (BOCC) today considered the adoption of an Ordinance amending the land Development code to provide standards for short-term vacation rentals. This was the first reading of the legislative item drafted by county staff and recommended only five days ago by the Planning & Development Board. If the BOCC voted affirmatively today, a second reading of the ordinance was scheduled for November 17, 2014.

The Ordinance moved forward with four affirmative votes and one abstention. Commissioner Barbara Revels abstained “out of an abundance of caution” because she had performed work in the past as a building contractor for some of the interested parties.

During public comment, several points were raised. The “one size fits all” approach of the ordinance, as written, presents problems. Many of the problems stem from ill-conceived assumptions. For example, the draft ordinance sets an occupancy cap of eight persons (including day guests), based on average Flagler County family size, with no regard to the square footage or number of bedrooms of the subject home. Yet vacation renters are often comprised of extended families.

The ordinance does not grandfather the existing occupancy cap of two per bedroom plus two more. Under that rule, a six bedroom home could be occupied by 14 persons (6 X 2 = 12 plus 2 = 14). Under the proposed ordinance, an owner of a six bedroom home could only rent to a party of eight. Those already owning a large home would not be able to cover their costs with only eight occupants. One audience participant brushed that argument aside by saying that the owners could simply raise their rental price. Respectfully, that comment was made with a complete lack of business knowledge.

Another problem exists because an individual who rents their home occasionally to help defray carrying costs is characterized the same as the person who rents solely as a business proposition all year. The burden of compliance is the same for both, forcing occasional renters to endure higher compliance related costs, to operate under the radar without oversight, to quit renting or sell their homes.

The requirement for a land line telephone and the requirement for a rental agent need to be revisited. Both are impractical, as written, and based on poor assumptions.

Staff and Commissioners had a difficult time defining what they were trying to control. Coffey discussed the one a year Thanksgiving dinner, where a atypical residential house would naturally be packed with extended family. Then he pondered, “How would you like to live next door to a house that had Thanksgiving dinner every day of the year. He described that type of activity as transient group occupancy. He said it “is all about frequency and occurrence.” Better be careful, Craig, controlling frequency and term are still preempted by the state.

Most of the complaints heard from the numerous Hammock residents during the public comment section were about noise, traffic, parking, garbage, bad behavior, etc. When asked if it was typical for gated or private communities governed by Community Development Districts (CDD), Property Owners Associations (POA) and Home Owners Associations (HOA) to have jurisdiction over these issues, Flagler County Attorney Al Hadeed dodged the question, saying only that CDDs did not have that power. The answer he should have given was “Yes for HOAs and POAs, but no for CDDs” The point is that the items most complained about are items which are governed by association documents. It should be up to the association, not the county to enforce them.

But this is a countywide ordinance, at least for the unincorporated parts of the county. Outside of gated communities, the county is responsible for control of these items. A one size fits all ordinance will not work, especially if it tries to control every aspect of rental; life and safety issues, parking, noise, occupancy, rental management, etc.

The BOCC did the right thing to move the process forward. I have no problem with an ordinance that regulates short-term rentals. Registration and/or certification will help ensure that life and safety issues are addressed and that bed taxes and sales taxes are collected and remitted. The county should not try to do the POA’s or HOA’s job controlling parking, traffic and noise.

Coffey did the right thing too when he told the BOCC that at the November 17th meeting, he would request a continuance with date certain. He acknowledged that staff had a lot of work yet to do and that they needed to evaluate input from stakeholders on all sides of the issue.

I offer three cautions:

  1. The Burt Harris Act is powerful. Make certain that a new ordinance does not test its limits
  2. Craft an ordinance that properly addresses life and safety issues, certification, licensing and tax collection, but tread carefully around the occupancy issue. Unauthorized expansion of the number of bedrooms should be addressed as code violations.
  3. In your egerness to control mini-hotels, do not trample on everyone else.
4 replies
  1. Charles Prellwitz
    Charles Prellwitz says:

    Clarification of My Comments

    My name is Charles Prellwitz, I am the audience participant you referred to in this post. I beg to differ. I did not brush aside the argument and say owners “ could simply raise their prices”. I stated the investors can achieve their desired return by maintaining the their current weekly rental price but by reducing the occupancy level they pass on what would considered a fair market price to the renter.

    The example I provided showed a Luxury Home with all amenities renting for $285/night to 7 couples (14 people) at $40.35/couple, versus for 4 couples (8 people per the Ordinance) at $71.25/couple . This $71.25 figure was lower than any advertised price I could locate for hotels/motels in the Palm Coast area and certainly seemed reasonable given the homes are advertised with all Lavish Luxuries as opposed to a hotel/motel room. In fact we have heard comments from renters we meet on the streets telling us, “This is an Unbelievable Deal, It is so Cheap”.

    I respect that you did not know me nor by background and felt my comment was made “with a complete lack of business knowledge”. I was a Senior Financial Marketing Executive who worked for and with Fortune 500 Companies both domestically and worldwide. I have financed/ priced/structured billions of dollars over a career of 30 years. I think this qualifies me to make a business comment and speak about market pricing and the elasticity of pricing models.

    Lastly I saw that you did to mention my other comment wherein I noted that an investor, who presented to both the Planning Board and the BOCC stated their house was 9 bedrooms, when in fact their permit showed only 7 bedrooms, and their STR advertisement showed 10-11 bedrooms. This is exactly the situation that created the need for the Ordinance and the capacity limit.

  2. Richard Evans
    Richard Evans says:

    Don’t let the occupancy cap issue obscure the real

    I generally agree with your views but have less sympathy than you for the owners of the mini hotels. I know of some that were developed to take advantage of lower HOA’s per occupant but with little regard for the local community. Hence, neighbours pay proportionally more in fees and yet get more inconvenience. It’s not entirely unpredictable there would be a backlash and not entirely unreasonable to believe the properties can still make business sense with a reasonable occupancy cap. This may be a case where higher authorities are justified in unravelling unpopular decisions by HOA boards.

    I stop short of agreeing with Mr Prellwitz as I believe it’s reckless to pre judge the future price elasticity for any market and not a good basis for this type of legislation.

  3. Lisa G
    Lisa G says:

    Tiny Operation

    Dear Toby,

    First of all, thank you so much for the wonderful site.

    My family has been caught completely off guard by this Proposal. The first that I heard of it was in the New Journal last Thurs 10/30/14. I’ve been reading about it ever since. I went to the meeting last Monday to hear what it was all about, and this thing will be pretty much like a body blow to my family.

    I feel really bad for the folks that live near any of those Big Box houses, and certainly would not like that in my neighborhood. That said, I don’t understand why they haven’t been able to go after those abusive folks within the confines of their Documents, be it HOA, POA or CDD. Alright, I’m going to assume that they have tried that and failed.

    Next question, if they were genuinely interested in some “safety” issues, this Proposal would also pertain to Condominiums (90% of the Vacation Rental Market). Obviously, the political forces that be think that it is fine to through home owners to the wolves.

    The Propoal just wanted to throw their net out wide so that then they can try to put some of the folks out of business. Gee, I smell a rat. This thing will force family operations like mine to go even bigger and absolutely max out my house. I really cannot stomach all the extra paperwork and fees that we have in our lives to begin with, now this!! This has got to be the big hotel money talking!!!

    Ultimately, this proposal will not put the Big Box folks out of business, but rather, just move it to a police like state….24/7 inspections on guests, for instance. Is this the USA??

    I’ve resisted having a rental agent since we use our place like a second home. The snow birds that we have had came 5 months per year for 4 yrs in a row, until they just bought their own place locally. The economy went bust since and even the summer weeks have been slow. Our house is worth about 40% of the price that we paid. Now I’m not looking for sympathy because I’m not ashamed of not having a crystal ball, but we are not the big profitable company that you guys think that you are fighting. You’re also now fighting little beach cottages and houses that serve a wonderful population of visitors. Just for a laugh, I’d like to see these places with no agents so that they actually see how much work it is!!

    Senator Thrasher created this backlash in 2011 when he listened to the Vacation Rental Lobbyists. He should be the guy you go after. He’s upset the lovely balance that we have had until folks got their back up by reasonable regulation.

    Please read that whole proposal and put yourself in the shoes of a family that has a second home as their retirement plan, while they are working full time. It feels like a huge weight to us and very intrusive!!

    Your truly,

    1200 Sf Ft, 3 bed/2 bath

  4. Ron
    Ron says:

    Your a Busniess !

    I really does not matter if your a mom and pop vacation rental or a big box. Once you license your dwelling as a transient public lodging establishment you are required to follow the Florida Fire Prevention Code in addition to NFPA 101 of the life safety codes.

    This is why vacation rentals need to be regulated. It is all about life safety. There are many vacation rentals being advertised for more bedrooms than they where originally permitted for. I will give an example of one dwelling that was permitted with four bedrooms being advertised for rent with eight bedrooms. There are many other dwellings being rented as vacation rentals with illegal conversions. They are converting storage room, closets and garages into sleeping areas.

    Vacation rentals need to be regulated by Flagler county to protect the transient occupants that are visiting and the first responders being called to that dwelling for an emergency.

    All vacation rentals in the county must be included in this ordinance even the ones located in HOA’s and COA’s.

    Does your vacation rental have the following safety features?

    Multi purpose fire extinguishers
    Emergency Lighting
    Diagrams posted to show egress points out of the dwelling
    Smoke detectors inside and outside the bedroom area
    Proper secondary means of egress

    If your mom and pop vacation rental does not have these safety features you should not be in the business.

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