Disagreements about individual property rights are nothing new. Even our founding fathers argued about it.
John Adams said, “Property must be secured, or liberty cannot exist.”
Benjamin Franklin stated, “Private property…is a Creature of Society, and is subject to the Calls of that Society, whenever its Necessities shall require it, even to its last Farthing.”
I bring this up because many communities are now wrestling with the issue of short-term rentals and the growing success of Airbnb and other vacation rental websites. Many communities are unhappy with the growing number of short-term renters in previously traditional residential neighborhoods. Meanwhile, homeowners that count on vacation rental income are fighting for continued unrestricted use of their properties.
Fortunately for Sanibel, this issue was addressed long before the Interwebs with clearly defined rules around allowed rental terms. With the exception of some grandfathered properties, single family homes have a 28-day minimum rental period, and most condos have a minimum of 7 days. These restrictions have been crucial in shaping the nature of our community.
Sen. Greg Steube, R-Sarasota, introduced a bill last December that would strip local governments of the right to regulate short-term vacation rentals such as Airbnb, and give all such power to the state. Stuebe’s bill states property owners have “constitutionally protected” rights to use their residential properties as vacation rentals. “Owners should be able to do as they wish with their properties.” is the argument. However, many community leaders take issue with this position.
Casey Cook, spokesperson for Florida League of Cities, stated that some cities that do not limit short-term rentals, “are now seeing these rentals completely overtaking residential neighborhoods. Long-time residents are moving out as a result, and the residential character of traditional neighborhoods is slowly being destroyed.”
As an Island Realtor®, I can attest that many prospective buyers intend to rent out their future Sanibel property. With the current restrictions, these buyers most often choose condos since weekly rentals generate much more income. If single family homes allowed for 7-day rentals, many of these buyers would choose homes. In fact, I believe that the entire nature of our island neighborhoods would transition to mostly vacation rental homes in a surprisingly short time.
Many folks involved with island vacation rentals want a loosening of rental restrictions to increase their rental income. It certainly would be a boon to our business in real estate, but I believe it would cause serious harm to the community. Sanibel’s ‘small town’ vibe is an important reason why many folks moved to Sanibel – us included.
We love the feeling of community created by long term residents and people that connect with this island as ‘home’. Short-term rentals would erode this by shifting the balance in our neighborhoods from residents to vacationers. For example, look at the demographics of the condominiums allowing weekly rentals.
While I appreciate the entrepreneurial spirit, I don’t agree that it is a given right for property owners to rent out their homes however they see fit. We cannot do whatever we wish with our properties. Communities restrict commercial activities with zoning and ordinances, and they should be able to continue to set such restrictions. We all knew the rules when we purchased our homes.
Steube’s bill died this legislative session, but it should be a warning as the proposed legislation received significant support. We need to stay aware and ever vigilant in protecting our community.