A Florida appeals court has ruled that the City of Miami can block residents from renting out their homes for less than a month at a time, throwing the future of vacation rental companies like California-based Airbnb Inc. into uncertainty. The move reverses Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Beatrice Butchko’s earlier ruling, which temporarily halted the ban.
The dispute began in April 2017, when Airbnb and five Miami residents sued the city, claiming it was running an “aggressive anti-Airbnb campaign.”
This alleged campaign began at a March 2017 commission meeting, when the city adopted a rule that would ban short-term vacation rentals in certain residential areas. Under the rule, any temporary rentals in T3 or “suburban” zones — meaning single family and two family homes — would violate the city’s zoning code, Miami 21.
Airbnb’s online hosting service allows anyone in the world to rent a home for temporary stays, like vacations or business trips. Though Miami’s rental ban doesn’t strictly apply to Airbnb, the company would likely be hardest hit.
According to the lawsuit, the city had no legal basis to enforce a rental ban. Instead, the complaint alleged, it relied on a creative interpretation of Miami’s zoning code, which doesn’t mention vacation rentals by name.
The complaint listed various reasons why the five Miami residents — Yamile Bell, Ana Rubio, Gary M. Levin, Toya Bowles and Kenneth J. Tobin — choose to rent out their homes via Airbnb. Tobin cited security reasons, claiming he preferred having people rent his home while he was out of town, while Bell argued the extra income was crucial to her family.
But the Third District Court of Appeal cast doubt on the plaintiff’s likelihood of success and ruled the trial court’s injunction against the ban was too vague to remain in place. The ruling is the latest in a string of cases involving Airbnb and other lodging companies, as courts around the country grapple with the new phenomenon of short-term vacation rentals.
Attorneys for the City of Miami, Victoria Mendez, John Greco and Christopher Green did not respond to requests for comment before deadline.
City Attorney Miriam Ramos represents the City of Coral Gables, which filed an amicus brief, or “friend of the court” document in support of Miami. Coral Gables managed to ban short-term rentals in residential zones without much fuss, as its preexisting regulations were less ambiguous.
While Ramos admitted that short-term rentals make sense for certain residential communities, she doesn’t think it works for Miami and Coral Gables. In Ramos’ view, the decision to allow vacation rentals should rest with local — not state — government.
According to Ramos, the main concern for Coral Gables residents is security.
“There’s a sense of community and a sense of safety in the idea that you know your neighbors,” Ramos said. “When the person next door is a different person every week, decent as they might be, it provokes anxiety for residents who want to feel like a community.”
Airbnb’s lawsuit relies on the Florida Legislature, which recognized in 2011 that regulating vacation rentals was a job for the state, according to the complaint.
Counsel to the plaintiffs, Mitchell W. Berger, Paul S. Figg, Paul Avron and Fred Goldberg of Berger Singerman in Fort Lauderdale, did not respond to requests for comment before deadline.