DeSantis to ease rental restrictions in Florida for Phase 1 reopening

US: Florida state governor Ron DeSantis, who has attracted criticism for his handling of the Covid-19 crisis, has said vacation rentals will be able to reopen to state residents but holidaymakers from the coronavirus epicentre of New York are to be banned from booking for the foreseeable future.

Critics have turned on the governor after he signed an executive 20-87 closure order for vacation rentals in Florida on 27 March in order to limit the spread of the virus, whereas “hotels, motels, inns, resorts, non-transient public lodging establishments and time share projects” across the state have been allowed to remain open with no limitations on capacity or social distancing measures.

DeSantis said on Friday that the reopening of vacation rentals was subject to final approval from county and state officials at a news conference in the city of Jacksonville. On Monday, the state moved into a full Phase 1 reopening stage

He said: “If you tell me you’re going to rent them out to people from New York City, I’m probably not going to approve that, OK? If you’re saying that you’re going to rent it out to people in other parts of Florida or something that would be manageable, if there’s ways in there that clearly you have an eye to safety, then I’m fine.”

On Monday, the state moved into a full Phase 1 reopening stage, which also includes the partial lifting of restrictions on opening hours for gyms, restaurants and retailers. The latter will now be able to serve customers at a 50 per cent capacity.

Counties will now be required to submit vacation rental reopening plans to the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation, which will have to approve the proposals.

New Yorkers, as well as visitors from Covid-19 hotspot states such as Louisiana and Massachusetts, were referenced by Governor DeSantis as being banned from reserving vacation rentals for the foreseeable future to prevent the virus being spread further across the country.

Florida’s host community, who operate an estimated 275,000 listings statewide, have been quick to direct their widespread anger DeSantis.

Last week, property managers filed a lawsuit against the governor, accusing him of violating their constitutional rights, in order to “protect and vindicate fundamental liberties that citizens of the United States enjoy free from government interference”. They also asked for a federal judge to issue a temporary restraining order or injunction prohibiting enforcement of the governor’s order.

Property management company Florida Beach Rentals was also a plaintiff in the lawsuit, as its owners alleged that DeSantis’ ban on vacation rentals had already cost the business more than $1.5 million since 27 March.

DeSantis defended his stance on keeping hotels open, saying that they had been housing National Guard troops for the duration of the pandemic so far.

Meanwhile, the Vacation Rental Management Association [VRMA] coordinated a grassroots advocacy campaign to protest against the ban.

The campaign, which gathered support from property managers and suppliers across the state, brought in Smart City Policy Group founder Matt Curtis and Coletta Consulting president Tiffany Edwards to work alongside CCO, VRMA board member and Government Affairs Committee chair, Cliff Johnson, to lead the campaign against DeSantis’ decision.

Earlier this month, VRMA president Toby Babich sent out a letter to all elected officials in Florida to ask for equal treatment and economic assistance for vacation rental property managers and owners. He said such properties should be allowed to reopen and not have any unwarranted restrictions, and encouraged other VRMA members and vacation rental housing advocates to write similar letters to the governor.

The latest confirmed Covid-19 cases in Florida as of Monday stand at 45,588, with 1,973 recorded deaths. On a national level, the country has the highest number of confirmed cases with 1.54 million people diagnosed with the coronavirus and 90,578 recorded deaths, although the figures are difficult to compare with other countries who have been accused of under-reporting their actual case numbers.

In a statement provided to Mail Online, Airbnb’s Florida policy director Tom Martinelli described DeSantis’ announcement on Friday as a “good start”.

He said: ‘We’re glad that the governor has listened to the many voices who have called for the reopening of vacation rentals in Florida. As conveyed, vacation rentals are an important part of Florida’s economic recovery as they remain a key source of income for thousands of hosts, small businesses and local governments across the state.”