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Ormond Beach Observer Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021 7 months ago

Hope for short-term rentals emerges, Volusia to review existing ordinance

In the meantime, Volusia County will cease code enforcement action on short-term rental properties for two weeks.
by: Jarleene Almenas Associate Editor

Vacationers visit Volusia County. They fall in love with its beaches. They decide to invest in a property, with the hope of it residing in it full-time upon retirement. In the meantime, they decide to use it as a vacation rental. 

Then, they discover — in some cases several years later — that they're actually violating a county ordinance, and are ordered to stop all rentals. 

It's a story echoed by several of the homeowners who attended the County Council meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 16, and who pleaded that the county change its ordinance. And though there has been no official action taken, the council did direct staff to cease all county action on short-term rentals for the next two weeks.

That means that until the County Council can review Volusia's short-term rental ordinance, which currently requires a minimum of 30-day rentals for single family homes and condos in county residential zones, no code enforcement complaints will be processed toward these homeowners. This came from a unanimous motion by the council at the meeting, though a discussion of short-term rentals was not included in the meeting's agenda.

“Let’s do something today to help the people of Volusia County who are struggling to keep a business," Volusia County Chair Jeff Brower said. "They’re trying to live here and are extremely good neighbors. I believe in private property rights and private property rights do not give anybody the freedom to go out and abuse their neighbors."

According to the Vacation Rental Home Alliance of Volusia, the county has been operating a campaign to stop vacation rentals in both condos and single family homes using software program that tracks rentals advertised on VRBO and Airbnb. The alliance states this has pitted neighbor against neighbor as some residents police these rental platforms to issue a complaint to the county's code enforcement.  

Richard Feller, president of the alliance, said the addressing the issue was urgent.

“These people are very, very hurt right now," Feller said. "They’re having to sell homes. They’re closing businesses.”

'Not just a beach issue'

For over a year, short-term rental websites Airbnb and VRBO have been collecting and remitting resort taxes, required to be paid by all tourist lodgings, for Volusia County on behalf of its local hosts. 

In 2019, the 120 homeowners that form part of the alliance collected $9 million in revenue, of which $1.13 million was tax revenue, said Pete Vega, member of the organization. Of that sum, Volusia claimed over $730,000. 

According to his data, their vacation rentals brought in over $7 million of commerce into Volusia County as their guests supported local businesses.

“This isn’t just a beach issue," Vega said. "This is impacting everyone.”

According to data found on AllTheRooms, a New York-based vacation rental search engine, the Ormond area's supply of vacation rentals on Airbnb totals 190, and 95 on VRBO.

The average revenue earned per  listing for the month of January is $1,102 on Airbnb, and $1,778 on VRBO, an increase of 9.76% and 29.78% since last month.

The property owners' side

All of the speakers at the meeting had a story to tell. 

Feller's mother, Rosalene, said that she and her husband purchased their dream home in Bethune Beach to be near their son. When an unexpected illness impacted their family, they began renting their home to prevent losing it. That plan came to halt because of "frightening harassment" from a few of the neighbors and a "very overzealous" code enforcement. She said that they were additionally harassed when they opened their rental to house first responders during the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Another homeowner from Bethune Beach said she gets harassed by neighbors if there's a new car on the driveway to their home. 

Rachel Hutcherson, of Ormond Beach, said she and her family travel periodically and want to rent their home when they're away. She attested to the well-maintained rentals in Ormond-by-the-Sea, saying they were some of the cleanest in the neighborhoods.

“Short term vacation rental in our culture is here to stay," Hutcherson said. "The longer Volusia County and its property owners and small business owners are not able to benefit from them, the worse.”

The bigger picture

For County Council Chair Jeff Brower, time was of the essence. The council was going to discuss short-term rentals at its workshop later that day, but he feared that if the conversation was put off until then, an update to the county ordinance would be dragged out. 

“People are losing their homes today," Brower said.

There was some confusion on the council after the word moratorium was used by County Councilwoman Billie Wheeler, as several council members voiced concerns over taking action on an item that was not on the agenda.

They also hadn't heard from people who opposed short-term rentals in neighborhoods at the meeting. 

“You still have another side to this picture that still needs to be heard," said County Councilman Ben Johnson. 

In previous articles published in the Ormond Beach Observer regarding short-term rentals, hoteliers have been one of the major opposers to short-term rentals in the area. 

County Councilwoman Barb Girtman echoed Johnson's sentiments. She said a presentation on the subject, and representation from all viewpoints, was needed to make a decision that will impact the entire county. 

“We don’t have the 10,000-foot view for Volusia," she said.

The council was largely in support for reviewing the ordinance, but there was hesitation in taking specific action to change it at the meeting. County Councilman Danny Robins said one could support an item and still want it done "the right way."

“This is going to open up some doors," Robins said. "The word’s going to be officially out. What other problems can this cause? I’m not against this. I want to do it right the first time.”

The next County Council meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, March 2.

This story was updated at 9:30 a.m. on Thursday, Feb. 18, to correct the fact it was Councilwoman Billie Wheeler who brought up the term moratorium, not Brower, as previously reported.

Jarleene Almenas is the associate editor for the Ormond Beach Observer. She has been with the newspaper since 2017 after graduating from the University of Central Florida with a bachelor's degree in journalism. Prior to coming to the Observer, she interned for the Orlando...

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