By Jessica Sanchez and Mike S Payton, Contributing Reporters
MIAMI BEACH, FLORIDA – The circuit court in Miami–Dade County issued on October 7th, an order granting summary judgment to Natalie Nichols, that invalidated the City of Miami Beach’s short-term rental ordinances based upon a conflict with state law.
The next day, the City released a statement that they maintain the fines are not in conflict, are legal and enforceable under Florida law.
Mayor Dan Gelber said, “While we respectfully disagree with the court’s ruling regarding this matter, the City of Miami Beach intends to immediately seek appellate review of this decision — and are confident that the Third District Court of Appeal will validate our ordinance.”
According to the city, Chapter 162 of the Florida Statutes merely affords one method of enforcing the city’s ordinances, but the clear and plain language of the statute authorizes municipalities to adopt an alternate code enforcement system, which the city has done in this matter.
The battle has been ongoing, and in March this year, Mayor Gelber told the New York Times, “We have residential areas in our community and we have zoned them so when people purchase a home they know they are in a residential community,” saying that Airbnb was knowingly flouting the law.
The short-term fines were increased by the City of Miami Beach in 2016, to $20,000 for the first violation, that had previously been $1,500 for single-family and $500 for multifamily residences. Currently the fines are each subsequent violation increases by $20,000, and in case of multiple violations they can be as high as $100,000.
In 2018, Miami Beach resident Natalie Nichols sued the city, challenging its steep fines and the ban as a whole. The Goldwater Institute, which represents other Airbnb hosts across the country, filed the lawsuit on her behalf.
“This ruling vindicates the property rights of all Miami Beach homeowners who share their homes as short-term rentals,” said Goldwater Institute attorney Matt Miller after the October 7th decision.
“Home-sharers in Miami Beach no longer have to fear that they will end up in financial ruin for exercising this essential property right,” Miller said.
Since 2016 when the fines were enacted, it is reported that the city has only collected $500,000, in contrast to the almost $8 million fined since June, according to the Miami Herald.
According to Airbnb, hosts in Miami-Dade County earned a combined $204 million in income and delivered $10 million in bed taxes in 2018.
Despite the ruling on Monday, the city’s spokeswoman, Melissa Berthier, said the fines are still in effect and that the city’s code enforcement would continue to enforce the ordinances.
Mayor Dan Gelber said the fines are justified based on how lucrative the short-term rental market is for homeowners. The city had used lower fines previously and did not deter illegal short-term renting, he said.
“Our fines are high but on the other hand, the amount they’re getting is commensurate with that,” he said.
“There was a need for more substantial penalties as the city has an obligation to maintain the aesthetics, character and tranquility of our residential neighborhoods.”
According to an August report, hotel occupancy rates were 79.8 percent in Miami-Dade in the first-half of 2019. Average daily room rates during the period were lower than last year in Miami-Dade ($218, down 0.8 percent).
Miami Beach, which has a population of 91,562 receives 8.6 million visitors per year, and has over 23,000 hotel rooms.