Party Over?


If a new City of Miami Beach ordinance is approved on second reading in April, it will become just a little harder for purveyors of short-term rental units in residential areas to line up customers for what have become known as “party houses” to many locals, annoyed for years at the practice.

The Miami Beach City Commission approved on first reading a measure to prohibit the advertising of short-term rentals and commercial use in residential zoning districts.

The ordinance was sponsored by Commissioner Ed Tobin after lengthy analysis by the City about the extent of the problem.

“We have a few homes around the city that are constantly being rented short term for a wild, loud party or for a movie shoot,” Tobin said. In the Flamingo Park neighborhood, some small apartment buildings were renting rooms nightly, basically functioning as hotels. A few years back, a group of residents asked the commission to stop the proliferation of these ‘hotels’ in the Flamingo residential neighborhood.”

The city commission did respond, Tobin said, but there were limits on what could be done.

“We changed the law, but some of these ‘hotels’ were grandfathered in by showing proof that they were in existence prior to an effective date, along with proof they had been paying the required taxes and fees,” Tobin continued. “We also imposed stricter fire and building safety standards commensurate with hotel use on those property owners that were grandfathered in.

Many of those grandfathered went to great expense to comply with the City’s strict requirements.”

Tobin said that the City’s previous restrictions were hard to enforce.

“The new ordinance doesn’t change the City’s prohibition – it just adds another method for proving a violation,” Tobin added. “The act of advertising a short-term rental in our residential neighborhoods is now a violation of our short-term rental ordinance. We no longer need the testimony of the out of town renter to prove our case.”

According to a March 5, 2014 Commission Memorandum, Miami Beach did its homework in determining how prevalent the problem has become. According to that memo, “In November 2012, Code established a Short Term Rental Team (STRT) composed of Code Compliance Officers (CCOs) from each of the major Districts (South, Middle, North zone boundaries and the Afternoon and Evening Shifts). The purpose of the STR team is to address the increasing number of unauthorized and illegal short-term rentals within residentially zoned areas.”

According to data acquired via the City initiative, in the 12-month period between November 2012 and October 2013, Code’s STR team received 265 complaints, has opened and investigated more than 300 cases, has issued 189 Notices of Violation, of which 81 percent have been upheld and adjudicated guilty at Special Master hearings. Considering adjudicating guilty requires a preponderance of evidence, the acquired statistics demonstrate a clear challenge for Miami Beach’s residential neighborhoods.

Many residents are fully aware that short-term rentals for parties and filming have been escalating problems.

“There is so much going on in Miami Beach all the time, and even at most hours of the day, that it must be hard to know what it OK and what isn’t; what is a loud neighbor’s party and what is an [unlawful use],” said Miami Beach resident Melinda Byer. “This isn’t exactly Topeka, where things like that stand out.”

Restricting advertising is not always a simple matter, since it’s conceivable that one party or another might object on First Amendment grounds. However, City Attorney Jose Smith believes the ordinance will stand.

“As to the constitutionality of the proposed ordinance prohibiting advertisements for illegal rentals, I am confident that the City can withstand any legal challenge,” Smith told SunPost. “The United States Supreme Court has long recognized government’s ability to ban advertising related to illegal activity.

“As stated by the Court in a 1973 decision, Pittsburgh Press Company vs. Pittsburgh Commission on Human Relation ( a case that affirmed an ordinance prohibiting discriminatory advertising), 413 U.S.376 (1973),” Smith continued:”‘We have no doubt that a newspaper constitutionally could be forbidden to publish a want ad proposing a sale of narcotics or soliciting prostitutes.’”

The ordinance is not a paper tiger, Smith asserts.

“The administration has been directed to aggressively enforce the law. Violators will be heavily fined and subject to losing their occupational or business licenses,” he said.

The second reading of the ordinance is scheduled for a Public Hearing on April 23, 2014. The Miami Beach Planning Board unanimously supports the measure.

About Michael W Sasser

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