Short term rentals reopen

Airbnb hosts, vacation rental operators dissatisfied with recent county regulations

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Vacation rentals recently received a green light in St. Johns County – although instead of celebrating, hosts and operators are still looking at the board in disdain due to proposed restrictions.

On May 19, the county released a four-page plan outlining the guidelines for short term rentals. The approved proposal included two-week minimum stays for vacationers coming from states with more than 500 cases for 100,000 residents, allotting a 24-hour window between guest check-ins and cleaning guidelines which include removing throw pillows and wellness checks for staff.  

The proposal was accepted along with Duval county’s plans, which are substantially more lenient. Duval county has what is considered one of the least demanding safety precautions in North Florida, asking hosts to limit occupancy to 10 or less guests while also “encouraging visitors and staff to adhere to social distancing” and “staggering check-in times.”

Prior to the reopening, many Airbnb hosts and short-term rental businesses protested Gov. Ron DeSantis’ decision to allow hotels to keep operating while closing rental operations.

“As far as using any logic to keep Airbnb closed, that logic you're using has to apply to hotels as well,” said Airbnb host, Mason Cardin. “Hotels are a lot more dangerous. You have hundreds more people in one small area, using elevators, lobbies and breakfast areas, versus an Airbnb which at most is maybe a part of someone's house.”

Cardin rents a single, detached carriage house on his property in Lighthouse Park in St. Augustine. He said even prior to COVID-19, renters have been struggling with regulations and new ordinances from the city and county regarding short terms.

“It was an edgy subject even before this Corona thing came down, with what the City of St. Augustine was trying to do,” Cardin said. “They are really just taking away our property rights.”

Earlier in the year, the city of St. Augustine’s commissioners looked to passing ordinances that would place restrictions on short term rentals. Those in opposition said the proposed ordinances circumvented the state’s preexisting rental law.

Steve Milo, owner of VTrips, a vacation rental company which owns 300 rentals in St. Johns County, felt recent county regulations were unjust. While Milo operates in South Carolina and Tennessee, where rentals were not regulated, he feels that his Florida rentals were “discriminated against” during the shutdown.

“As a small business owner, it seemed the intent was to make it virtually impossible to operate,” Milo said. “I respectfully asked the county administrator to provide a list of rules to operate a bed and breakfast or time share, and never received a response back. I have employees that do not want a handout, they want their jobs back.”

Many hosts in the area believe the regulations to be vague, with confusing verbiage and unrealistic requirements on host’s ability to oversee guests.

“Whoever wrote those rules obviously never even used an Airbnb application,” Cardin said. “The state passed the buck to the county and the county really doesn't know what to do.”

After calling the county and speaking to a representative regarding the new regulations for over an hour, Cardin said he still doesn’t have the answers he needs and has been waiting for a return phone call for a week.

“The county subjecting me to a criminal offence for not knowing information (I can’t get from guests),” he said. “They're not asking hotels that. They can't even answer any questions about it even though at the top of the memo is ‘St. Johns County regulations and standards for opening up short term rentals.’ They didn't take responsibility for any of the rules they've put in. They’ve just said, ‘oh that’s the state's mandate.’”

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