Lawsuit Challenges Barring Shortterm Beachhouse Rentals
Written by Eric Kalis on October 4, 2007
By Eric Kalis
Miami Beach zoning officials are using loose interpretations of city ordinances to unlawfully prevent single-family homeowners from renting out homes for less than six months, says a New York lawyer who is suing the city.
Attorney Richard Freeman filed suit last week in Miami-Dade Circuit Court on behalf of hospitality services company Villazzo VillaHotels and a Miami Beach homeowner after the company and homeowner were cited by city officials for advertising the home as a short-term rental on the company’s Web site, Mr. Freeman said. The plaintiffs hope the Circuit Court judge deems the city’s interpretation of noise and off-street parking ordinances unconstitutional in this case, he said.
Villazzo VillaHotels provides five-star amenities for mansions and high-end homes in cities throughout the world, according to the company’s Web site.
Attempts to contact Miami Beach planning and zoning director Jorge Gomez were unsuccessful.
According to the lawsuit, city zoning officials consider home rentals of less than six months in single-family-zoned neighborhoods tantamount to running an illegal commercial business on residential property. Using that stance, the city applies the local noise and off-street parking ordinances and "quality of life" laws as reasons to prohibit short-term home rentals, Mr. Freeman said. "There is no law, code or regulation saying you can’t do this," he said. "The city issued an interpretation [in 2000 banning short-term rentals] and now has gone one step further by saying we can’t advertise that we intend to do this. We say it is illegal, unconstitutional and overreaches the city’s police power."
Allowing seasonal home rentals would put Miami Beach on par with major US vacation destinations such as The Hamptons in New York, Aspen, CO., and Tucson, AZ., which have no restrictions on single-family home rentals, Mr. Freeman said. Some beach homeowners are "snowbirds" or seasonal residents who only spend a few months in the city each year, he said.
The city’s argument that renting out homes for short periods is a business is invalid, Mr. Freeman said. Single-family homeowners look to rent homes to help offset ownership costs, he said, and seldom profit from the arrangement. "To call short-term rentals of single-family homes a business is just plain wrong," Mr. Freeman said.
While the city’s interpretation initially focused on preventing homeowners from renting Miami Beach homes for large parties, he said, part-time residents who want to rent homes for short periods have been unfairly lumped into the same group. "Like most well-intentioned laws," Mr. Freeman said, "the broad dragnet of the prohibition has entangled many otherwise law-abiding homeowners who are now unable to rent their homes on a short-term basis because of the bawdy and uncivilized behavior of a handful of inconsiderate citizens."