Miami Beach Targets Online Platforms in Battle Against Short-Term Rentals

Susan Askew
Susan Askew

Miami Beach Targets Online Platforms in Battle Against Short-Term Rentals:

Current law focuses on property owners, proposal would expand efforts to the companies that carry listings

After enacting some of the most aggressive short-term rental laws in the country, the City of Miami Beach is looking to make them even stronger by going after the rental platforms. The current Code, which prohibits short-term rentals in all single-family homes and many multi-family buildings in certain zoning districts, targets property owners through a licensing process for legal rentals and stiff penalties for those who rent illegally. 
City Commissioners this week passed on first reading, an ordinance proposed by Mayor Dan Gelber to require short-term rental platforms to display a property owner’s business tax receipt (BTR or business license) along with their resort tax account to show they are operating legally.
Gelber said, “This is actually a pretty big deal.”
Alek Boksner, Chief Deputy City Attorney, expanded on that. “The reason [this legislation] is important is because one would not be able to get a business tax receipt and resort tax account unless they were within the appropriate zoning district." If advertised without them, they are likely not legal rentals. Initially the proposed fines are $1,000 to $5,000 for violations though Boksner said, “It may be advantageous to increase the fine to make sure that it’s not something’s that the cost of doing business.” 
“We believe this is the second half of our efforts in order to stem the unfortunate tide of the illegal rentals that have transpired here throughout the City of Miami Beach,” he added.
Boksner said the City has been speaking with the online rental platforms about the legislation. “Those platforms have proposed that we create, essentially, a ‘safe harbor’… They have come to us in good faith, willing to work with the City of Miami Beach in terms of no longer permitting advertisements to occur in those zoning districts where they are illegal.” Under a safe harbor clause, the platforms would not be penalized for unintentional errors. While the City has “not fully embraced” the language proposed by the platforms, it is something that will continue to be discussed prior to second and final reading of the ordinance in September, Boksner said.  
Gelber said, “The reason why this is a big deal is because up to now… our ordinance on this has gone after the owners and this actually crosses a Rubicon and goes after the platform which is not something that we’ve done before.” He said he proposed the legislation because he isn’t sure the current ordinance is as effective as it could be. “If I thought our current ordinance was 80%, 90% or 60-70% effective, I might not want to do this because some of the downside is we might get into litigation at some point. To the platforms this is a huge deal that, all of a sudden they’re on the line on this, and we haven’t touched them. We’ve only gone after the landlords but this would be a huge difference.”
A concern, he said, is that the legislation “might inspire the [State] Legislature to preempt us because it is such a big thing… For me, I don’t feel like we’ve been giving our citizens enough protection as is, so this is that next step.” He said the safe harbor provision in the event “a mistake was made or it wasn’t a bad faith issue” might be a good idea “so long as it isn’t actually a loophole that swallows the rule.”
Commissioner Michael Góngora said, “We’ve been going after short-term renters for many years with mixed levels of success and I think this is good to, kind of, take the burden off of the property owners and to go after the people that are putting it on their platforms, the big companies.” He noted there are “property owners that have come in that have leased out their properties and unbeknownst to them the tenant is now putting the property into a short-term rental pool, so I think this ordinance would help stop that bad practice from going on in some cases here in Miami Beach.”
Góngora, an attorney, said, “I think we should explore the safe harbor because we really don’t want these big, deep pocket companies like Airbnb lobbying the State to go after us so I think if there’s a way that we can work with them in a manner that would make it more palatable and avoid some type of litigation or something happening at the State level, I think we should.”
Gelber said he wanted to take up the issue of the fines on second reading as the amount “might have something to do with whether it’s a technical issue or intentional issue.” 
Ensuring legal renters are able to obtain the appropriate licensing so they don’t end up with fines was a concern of Commissioner Ricky Arriola. “I heard from some people that where it is legal, the registration process is somewhat cumbersome and convoluted” and he urged the Administration “to streamline the entire process so we achieve our objective, curb short-term rentals, [but] where it’s lawful don’t put those owners in a position where they’re getting penalties.”  
Boksner responded, “We’re mindful that there are certain players out there that we are anticipating will comply and, what I mean by that is, they will no longer permit the illegal rentals to be advertised on that platform and as part of that good faith working with the City of Miami Beach we anticipate we will look at certain options in order to streamline the process in order to address what may have been a problem” with the legislation enacted a couple of years ago.
Commissioner John Alemán asked Boksner if he was confident the legislation “is not putting our grandfathered short-term rental protections at risk.” (The City passed its ordinance before the State preempted local governments from regulating short-term rentals and is grandfathered in.)
Boksner said the new proposal is consistent with the ordinance that requires property owners to “obtain a BTR and resort tax account and they must disclose that they are within a zoning district that legally authorizes them to do daily, weekly, monthly rentals, so this is the closing in of the bookend, essentially, making sure that the property owner gets the BTR and the resort tax account and that it is now listed with these platforms… So I do not believe that there will be any impact to our existing ordinance prohibiting that.”
Alemán noted the City has just launched a “Check Your Renter” tool allowing landlords to “submit the names of prospective tenants and retrieve any short-term rental violation history so they can protect themselves from a potentially bad tenant who might be intending to illegally sublease without their knowledge.” In a press release, the City called the tool a “first of its kind platform” that can be used as part of the routine background checks that help protect property owners.
To utilize the tool, visit
Short-term rentals are defined by the City as less than six months and one day.

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