US: Though Florida businesses are beginning to open under as the first wave of lockdown restrictions are lifted, no timeline has been made as to when the state’s many vacation rentals will be reopened.
This angered those within the industry who complain of poor government planning as much larger hotels and resorts have been allowed to operate throughout the crisis.
The initial restriction on vacation rentals began on 27 March via an executive order. Governor Ron DeSantis then added an additional mandate extending the ban until 4 May.
On 29 April, DeSantis unveiled the first businesses to reopen, but vacation rentals remained closed in spite of the fact that other forms of lodging were allowed to continue operating.
As the industry awaits word of when the restrictions will be lifted, many have expressed frustration with the closure. A Change.org petition, which has garnered over 20,000 signatures, demands that DeSantis re-evaluate the ban, as well as provide clarity as to when the next phase of restrictions will be lifted.
The petition is one of many strategies that the Florida Vacation Rental Managers Association [FVRMA] has employed to pressure the governor’s office. It has also joined forces with Florida Realtors Association to propose a three day “safe time” between rentals, where nobody would enter the property.
This strategy may not reduce risk of Covid-19, and may cause other health risks due to lack of maintenance, but estimates show that it would reduce overall occupancy for rentals by 25 to 30 per cent.
Some businesses, such as San Destin Golf and Beach Resort, have noted that vacation homes are more effective social distancing tools than a large hotel.
In a letter to the state government, they noted: “The entire nation has been sent to their own homes to shelter in place, making a private residence much less of a threat than a multi-room hotel with countless public areas.”
Other businesses have taken more drastic measures. According to VRM Intel, Orlando law firm Fasset Anthony and Taylor has sent a demand letter to DeSantis in cooperation with rental owners Jeff and Gina Paglialonga, alleging that the executive order may be unconstitutional, and demonstrating precedent for a class action legal battle.
This has led to speculation about the causes of the ban. Most owners believe that the link between vacation homes and beach visits led to the ban, with the governor hoping to reduce incoming tourists who may be bringing the virus.
Florida has previously considered placing strict regulation on short-term rentals, but reluctance from the governor led to that push slowing. Vacation rentals are a major part of some counties’ incomes, with Republican Matt Gaetz saying: “In Northwest Florida, we don’t have a 500-key hotel room every 1,000 feet.”
A DeSantis ally, Gaetz supports the shutdown, claiming that the data driven approach will work. Meanwhile, owners worry that continued closure will harm them, with Starfish Realtor Lauren Barley noting: “Everyone is concerned, the income that’s been lost is critical.”