We all know the definition of “House.” As the American Heritage Dictionary defines it, it is a place where one lives; a residence, a house or an apartment, a household.
Here is the definition of “Commercial”: “Busy or engaged in commerce or work intended for commerce.” And “Business”: “A generally commercial or mercantile activity carried on as a means of subsistence.” Flagler County, where we live, defines “vacation rental” as a “commercial enterprise” by code. Vacation rentals might be among the examples listed under the “commercial” or “business” dictionary entries.
Yet many counties and cities around Florida, including Flagler, allow businesses to locate in single-family residential areas. Originally, it was about helping people in the aftermath of the Great Recession who were on the verge of losing their homes. This is no longer the case.
Step into multi-billion dollar giant corporations like AirBnB and Vrbo, rapidly taking over single-family residential neighborhoods with global advertising and leading these businesses without the approval of neighbors by these business ventures.
Before building an addition to our home, we twice went to the zoning board and paid the county to notify all neighbors of our plans within 500 feet of the job site. We posted a sign for two weeks stating what our intentions were and when those plans would be presented to council, allowing neighbors to voice their concerns. There is no such requirement for the new business next door. I was never informed that AirBnB was to operate in our neighborhood. These corporate giants indiscriminately crush the Davids in their quarters.
Let me use the house next to us here in the hammock as an example. It was once a dwelling house like any other. It is now a business. The owner is not using this building as a safety net to prevent loss of property, only as a commercially advertised business, operating 24/7. There are at least four others like that on our little street.
Flagler County has informed me that there are no restrictions on the number of days per year these businesses can rent to transients, or the number of these businesses that can be located in our neighborhood. This means we could be surrounded by countless commercial units, depleting the residential housing stock, affecting rents and sales, increasing traffic, killing privacy. These businesses operate by their own rules, depriving us of neighbors and community.
Companies claim that short-term rentals will bring in tourists and revenue, pretending these tourists are deprived of local amenities, which is a false narrative. We have hotels, motels, restaurants, stores, boat ramps, beaches and parks already accessible to the public, in the appropriate zoning. We also have a very large complex on the beach in the hammock, zoned for commercial businesses. Such commercial enterprises should not be permitted in single family residential areas.
These corporate giants claim they’ll bring us extra taxes, but the reality is, now that Travis Hutson’s bill passthey will be able to sue the local government (meaning us, the taxpayers) for any regulatory change that could cause a business to lose 15% or more.
These corporate giants claim that vacation rentals will create jobs in the area. In fact, the “host” next to us is not the owner, does not live in our county, and brags online that she also manages properties in other parts of the country like Stowe, Vermont. The owner, host and handyman do not live in Flagler County. The “guests”, unlike permanent residents, are transient: day to day, the residence will be occupied fewer days of the year than a permanently occupied accommodation, so day to day, this accommodation will be the source of less, no more shopping. Power.
Other cities across the country are trying to retain or restore sanctity and quality of life. the San Diego one AB 1731, which was drafted by a San Diego-area assembly, will cap the number of entire homes that would be converted to short-term rentals at 1% of the residential housing stock, and cut AirBnB-style rentals that only occupy part of a house would still be allowed.
Oahu, Hawaii is proposing a bill that would also reduce short-term rentals. Many other cities and counties also limit vacation rentals to 30, 90, and 180 days per year, often requiring the owner to live on-site. Many fear the long-term effects – evicting young, long-term tenants and buyers and limiting affordable housing, with investors again playing a disproportionate role in driving the housing market.
Year after year, Florida’s vacation rental industry has tried to remove what little local regulation there is on rentals, with millions in advertising and lobbying. These bills failed again this year. They will be back next year. Meanwhile, the state is not addressing the fundamental change that vacation rentals have brought to our neighborhoods.
We need to take back our homes, our zoning, our true local businesses, our privacy, our density, our neighborhoods, our streets, our neighbors, our communities and our sanctuaries. We are entitled to peace, serenity and quality of life in our own homes, in our own residential neighborhoods. Whether the neighbors are best friends or barely tolerate each other, there is safety in knowing your neighbors for who they are. A constant flow of strangers undermines this security.
My David and I bought a house a dozen years ago and turned it into our dream retirement home. The Matanzas River was the main reason we settled here. Now, at 70, we are busy buying and planting shrubbery in hopes of preserving some of our privacy, which will block our northerly view of the river. It seems that AirBnB’s mission statement “To live in the world where one day you can feel at home anywhere and not in a house, but truly at home, where you belong,” only applies to transients with credit cards, who “only belong” for a night or two.
We belong too. Or so we thought. In the eyes of the law, of local zoning, of the supremacy of tourism, our sense of belonging seems unimportant.
Angela and David Bailus are residents of Hernandez Avenue in the hammock.