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County approves plan for vacation rentals; awaiting state nod

By Staff | May 19, 2020

If approved by the state, short-term vacation rentals could resume as early as Wednesday in Lee County.

The Lee County Board of County Commissioners on Tuesday approved a plan brought forward by County Manager Roger Desjarlais for short-term rentals.

The county policy sent through for state consideration restricts short-term rentals of less than 30 days to Florida residents while also barring the use of the premises to those who are “traveling internationally or from a state or locality with a substantial community spread of COVID-19.”

The county vacation rental safety plan also requires vacation rental property owners and managers to follow CDC guidelines for cleaning and disinfecting their facilities between uses.

Gov. Ron DeSantis banned short-term vacation rentals of less than 30 days back in March. The Town of Fort Myers Beach Council voted to lift its ban on short-term rentals May 15, though that was contingent on the governor lifting his own ban.

As part of DeSantis’ “full Phase One” reopening plan, which went into effect Monday, counties may draft short-term vacation rental plans but they must be approved by the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation.

County Commissioner Ray Sandelli said the board’s intent was “to get something in for approval as soon as we could.” The board could opt to renew the measure again in 30 days or change it depending on whether DeSantis issues a new executive order by that time.

According to Desjarlais, the county is waiting on approval on the proposal he submitted. He is confident the proposal will be approved based on discussions he had with the state department.

At Monday’s meeting of the Fort Myers Beach Town Council, Councilmember Billy Veach found part of the plan contradictory and too vague. Veach was concerned about not enough time being allowed in between the uses of facilities, which he worried could lead to an increase in the spread of infections. He criticized the law for not specifying further how the properties should be cleaned between uses.

Councilmember Rexann Hosafros wondered if it was fair for the town council to regulate short-term rentals more than hotels. Councilmember Dan Allers said the town shouldn’t put any more stringent rules on rentals and said the town should follow the state’s lead.

At a press conference in Jacksonville on Friday discussing short-term vacation rentals, DeSantis said if counties want short-term vacation rentals to resume, they need to submit applications to the state with their safety plans.

“If you tell me you are going to rent them out to people from New York City, I’m probably not going to approve that OK? If you are saying you are going to rent it out to people in other parts of Florida or something that would be manageable or if there are ways in there to clearly (protect) safety than I would be fine.”

DeSantis said some parts of Florida have been more affected than others.

“It’s going to be on a case-by-case basis,” he said.

“We want to make sure we are being very cautious,” DeSantis said.