Short-term rentals a matter of policy, not law, city attorney says
By Eric Kalis
A lawsuit contending that Miami Beach zoning officials are incorrectly interpreting city ordinances to prevent single-family homeowners from renting out homes for less than six months is "frivolous" and should be dismissed, the city's attorney says.
The city's policy on short-term home rentals could be revisited at the commission level, however, which is where the issue belongs, City Attorney Jose Smith said.
New York attorney Richard Freeman filed suit last month in Miami-Dade Circuit Court on behalf of hospitality services company Villazzo VillaHotels, which owns a property at 10 Palm Ave. on the city's Palm Island, after the company was cited by city officials for advertising the home as a short-term rental on the company's Web site. Villazzo VillaHotels provides five-star lodging in mansions and high-end homes in cities throughout the world, according to the company's Web site.
The plaintiffs seek a declaratory judgment overturning the city's ruling that if homeowners are required to pay a resort tax for renting homes for less than six months, the homeowners are actually conducting a business on single-family zoned properties, which is not allowed in the city code.
The city's interpretation "is doing indirectly what the city has been unable to do directly — pass an ordinance prohibiting such rentals," Mr. Freeman said.
To Mr. Smith, the dispute should be settled in City Hall.
"This is a policy issue, not a legal issue," Mr. Smith said. "It is up to the elected officials to decide what the policy should be. From a legal perspective, the lawsuit is frivolous and will be defended very aggressively. I am confident it will be dismissed."
Mr. Freeman said he filed suit because city commissioners probably would not be willing to examine the issue during an election year. Three of the six commission seats will be up for grabs during next month's election.
One commissioner who will be around for at least two more years, Jerry Libbin, said he is willing to revisit the city's policy at any time but doubts the commission would address the matter by year's end. "I am open to looking at some counterproposals on the policy question of whether or not six-month rentals are the best alternative or the only alternative," Mr. Libbin said. "If something is brought forth and the appetite of the commission is to hash it out at the committee level, I am certainly open to it. Come November we will have at least a couple of new faces, so not a lot is going to happen on this any time this year."