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Air BnB Response to Email Question (my long but detailed answer)

Its long, but hey- Better to to be thorough and answer, than to ignore the questions.


Platform question, what is your stance on Air BnBs?

Al's Response:

My stance on Air BnBs is this:

On the one hand, I believe in people's right to use their property within the law.  

I also believe that Air BnBs at one time helped and saved some people from losing their homes during the last recession and that will happen again someday. 

I believe there are good landlords and bad one. 

I believe that people who live here who own a 2nd home, who do air bnb it probably are much more likely to be the good landlords! 

The problem is that the Hedge Funds came in.  

That is the real problem.  

Hedge funds and other investment groups have been buying properties all over the country.  Because in fact, it's a good investment like a hotel, but without all the risks of large investments in hotels.  So these hedge funds found a more diversified asset that pay essentially a great dividend, and will all the benefits of depreciations and tax exemptions associated with it as well.  

That is the problem.  It has become an asset like a stock, that large faceless companies are purchasing in large quantities, holding, renting to the max, and squeezing out as much profit as possible without any care whatsoever for the communities where these properties are.  And this is driving UP costs in all sorts of places - like Melbourne Beach and other places.  And it will continue.  So, our town is a target for more and more and more Air BnBs.  I don't have one close by to where we live, but I have friends and know  who do, and the horror stories kinda break my heart.  Families with children, living here, with what is essentially a party mini-motel right next door.  I can't imagine, and don't want to.  And its not fair to them.  Likewise, older people having retired and wanting to enjoy that retirement in their home - suddenly NOT being able to enjoy that retirement becayse of the happenstance of an irresponsible faceless corporation from afar, snapping up a house next to them and having an Air BnB.  

The real problem and one of the ONLY real solution is honestly at the federal level - unless and until the tax and investment advantages of the ownership by large hedge funds and private smaller investment groups is NOT so lucrative and appealing, the trend WILL continue.  And the State has "preempted" stopping them. 

 But that doesn't mean we cannot push for some regulation at the state level.  And we absolutely should.  

If we cannot stop them now, at least we can use every resource and every idea to track them, make people aware of them, and use every resource at our disposal to CITE them for any infractions, so that we can AT least hit the party rentals and make them less of a trouble and a burden upon those poor unfortunate families and retirees who had the unfortunate luck to have one be established next to them.  

So that is what I would propose that we do. We can attack the problems we can, so we can take the edge off at least for those of our residents who are suffering, even if the majority of the rest of us aren't (yet, because it could always happen to any of us at any given time -every time a for sale sign goes up - near you, you are at risk of winning that "bad Air BnB" lotto curse).  

I came up with the Idea of a Rapid Response Hotline.  We have a building official and police officers and fire.  We have a lengthy registration process and there are many requirements at the state and local level.  We can try to enforce those.  We can make all of those things - all the forms filled out and all of the requireements and inspection reports - freely and constantly available to people, particularly those who are near a problem air bnb.  We can give them all the tools and information so they can a keen eye and report any issues to us, and then we can get out and cite those bad faceless landlords and hit them in the pocket book.  

If we do that vigiliently, MAYBE at least they get annoyed that the citations eat their profits and then maybe they will be choosier in their renters.  

Also, we MUST revise our Noise ordiances and any other ordinances that we do have, which are within the law, in such a way that they CAN be enforceable towards the things we ARE allowed to regulate and monitor for Air BnBs.  If we have well written ordinances on Noise and fire safety (parking, accessibility, electrical compliance, egress and ingress - these are things we CAN enforce against Air BnBs.  So if they aren't complying, we can cite them.  We have a noise ordinance, but it doesn't have a decibel max. So basically its NOT enforceable.  We need to amend it to have a decibel max and some enforceable standards, THEN we must purchase Noise Detection devices. With that, we CAN use the rapid response hotline to get out and cite air bnb party houses for any kind of excessive distrubances.  THIS is the key to lobbying - we take THOSE statistics to Tallahassee - we show the Legislators here are the party houses, we are the metric and the data on what our residents are having to deal with.   And then we have a plan of what we WANT them to pass.

So for example, if our data shows us that the most likely landlords to have party rentals are long-distance corporate owners who own houses everywhere - then we can ask Tallahassee to allow us to have greater restrictions and penalty escalations against those renters, and we can ask Tallahassee to pass regulations allowing us to severely increase and escalate penalties against repeated offenses, AND to allow us the ability to revoke short term rentals against any landlord who has more than a certain number of citations witin a period.  

This is something Legislators are more likely to pass, rather than a wholesale restriction.  

Because this targets the problem, and doesn't throw out the baby with the bath water.  

Legislators want to be seen as doing a good, while also not overly regulating or affecting all the other good business ventures, so this kind of "ask" fits within the parameters of what they are more likely to get on board with.  

We have to look at the ordinances that we can tighten up geared towards that, tighten them up, and come up with a plan of strategic and strict enforcement though to get us those metrics to take to Tallahassee.  

I also have a few more ideas if despite all that, the Air BnB problems continue and get worse.  We are NOT the only city who worries about this.  There are ways of aggregating all of our cities together - if lobbying tallahassee doesn't work, we can always try to target Air BnB itself in a statewide class action, all of the cities together.  Some will say - there goes the lawyer wanting to sue.  But when you get a lot of plaintiffs together AND use the resources of the Municipal league-- it is a viable option for going up against a big corporation like Air BnB if the problem keeps getting worse and worse and Tallahassee won't do anything.  But it is something that would only be done if it got really bad.  Another option is a city and citizen led Constitutional Amendment.  Again, this is not something I would do all by my lonesome as a Mayor.  BUT as a Mayor, talking and coordinating with other like mayors, and using the municipal leage of cities, and other like groups - this is something that is possible and would be effective to address the problem - if it got worse and all other efforts failed.  Im good with finding ambiguities in the law, AND FIXING THEM.  

I was a good contract drafter when I use to practice law and I was also very good at finding novel, but effective legal arguments - thinking outside the box so to speak.  When I encounter a problem, I don't take no for an answer.   I keep going til I find a solution.  Like Thomas Edison.  He was unsuccessful a few hundreds time before he was successful. Most people tend to quit after a few things, but success or failure in any endeavor is only a matter of deciding whether or when to quit trying or not.  People often quit trying after a few things, but in doing so, they miss out on discovering the thing that would have worked had they just been more persistent and obstinate, like me.  

But that the truth.  We did consider them.  

We just decided against them from both a monetary standpoint, a management standpoint and a practical standpoint.  If we only owned 1 house, it would be one thing, but its a valid concern or a valid suspicion anyone would have - considering we do own 4 houses.  But we went down that road of consideration, weighed the pros and the cons, and decided against it.  And that is the truth.  

If you want to know more on our "4 houses" - here you go:

The story on our 4 houses - we aren't some greedy investors looking to snap up all the property.  Trust me - we are FULL and NOT looking to buy more.  But below I will explain - why we came to purchase 4 houses here.  

Originally we purchased 2 homes.  We needed 1 to live in right away when we moved back to Mel Beach after a brief 1 year in St. Simnons Island.  We LOVED it here and didn't want to move, but there were schedule issues with my husband's job that were hard on us when we moved here the first time, so he took a job in St. Simons, but then those scheduling issues changed and they offered a job back to my husband with normal working hours, so we came back and bought 2 houses, KNOWING this was our forever place.  

So we bought surf rd, a 4 bed 3 bath (we have 2 boys who are now 9 and 14) and we bought an amazing little (old tiny) 2/2 in the "Golden Triange" on a double lot, at the same time.  

We intended to bulldoze it and build our forever home, and then sell surf.  But we had had a lot of moves and didn't want to do the building stuff right away.  After a year of being at surf with our boys biking to Gemini which is much closer at Surf Rd, my husband and I decided NOT to build yet, and so the BEau Jean house sat.  So I fixed it up a little at a time to have a "guest house" for friends and family.  We considered renting it occasionally for income when not in use.  But we really didn't want to rent it much, or often, and HAD we even ever done that it would have ONLY been weekly or monthly.  I didn't want to manage anything like frequent cleanings and bookings for anything less than occassional weekly rentals.  So, i fixed it up, a little.  We replaced the electrical so it was up to code.  The AC went out, so we had to put a new one in.  We painted everything white, inside and replaced fixtures and fans and things like that.  It started to look really cute, but itr was still an old small house.  Then I decided to put a new roof on so we did that.  

By that time, I loved the house so much I really didn't want strangers in it, and I use it is an away from home office and my sisters visits and stays here (once or twice a year, my bffs from college have come once, my mother a few times, and my husband Baylor buddies have come to fish, and I let a friend's parents stay here curing covid when they could not find anywhere to stay).  But we deciced NOT to ever rent Beau Jean, or to bulldoze it at that point because I had "cuted it up."  

Then we decided to buy 405 sunset.  that house is on a .75 acre lot, is an old house, that someone else renovated.  We got long term renters in there in a month or so after we purchased it.  They rented almost 3 years, and now the Lott family rents it long term.  

We intend to bulldoze Sunset one day hopefully and actually build our dream house there.  So that is why we have 3 houses, at that point.  

Finally - the 4th house.  503 2nd Ave.  It came up in foreclosure and I happened to hear about it.  the people had moved out, and I went and purchased it "on the courthouse steps" by bidding.  It was a good deal for Mel Beach standards.  We purchased it for that reason, but with the idea of long term renting THAT house an investment, but scooping it up because one day I wanted my mom to move here and live there.  She lives 2 hours away in Leesburg where I grew up.  At the time we bought that my step-day (the only dad Ive known) was diagnosed with cancer.  He lived a lot longer than we expected, but I bought that house knowing he would die in a few years and he did die last November.  My grandmother, my mom's mom, who also lived in Leesburg and who my mother cared for also died this March 2023.  We bought 2nd ave for this reason, knowing my mom would lose her mom and my dad and that she would one day hopefully decide to move here, and UNTIL then - the 2nd ave house would be a great investment we could long term rent.  

We did consider "short term" rentals.  But after purchasing 405 sunset in 2020 and then getting long term renters in right away, for a great monthly rental - and each month thereafter - all we had to do was cash the check.  There was NO maintenance, no bookings, no worries about insurance, or random people coming in and out, no cleanings, short term rental tax stuff, no worries about rowdy guest breaking things, we did not have to worry about having all these utility accounts and thing in our names for short term rentals -- etc -- all of that  - we realized - short term rentals are not the way to go.  So, my stance on short rentals in the abstract is this - I get it as an investment - for those who do that, you can make a good deal of money, but you have a ton of maintenance issues, and a ton of management issues, and I did not want to deal with that, and for us, the investment value was sufficient, if not greater and more secure for the long term rentals.  

Melbourne Beach does NOT have a lot of long term rentals so they are quite valuable and a good thing. When we first moved here the first time in 2016 we rented a house on 4th.  A lot of people rent a long term house, while waiting to find a house to buy, so it is almost as thought the "long term" rental market will always be good and stable here.  

So we did consider short term rentals.  

But we just decided based on experience we didn't want to do it, and we are perfectly happy, happier in fact, only doing long term rentals.  I get why others want the extra money, but in truth, its probably not worth it, when you really factor in the time if you aren't a hedge fund owning thousands of them across the country. 

Gosh that was long and probably more than you wanted to know. Sorry.  I do talk too much! But I like thinking.  Its my hobby. 

And since Im asking for your vote and confidence, I feel like I owe it to you to try to prove my worth. 

Check out my website and blogs if you want to know more. 

Ive been reviewing all the Air BnB town regulations and registration rquirements again today, because there are whole lot more nuggets in there we as a Town can utilize on this problem.  

At a bare minimum though, the TOWN has to get a list of all air bnbs, and get that information to us, and keep it up to date, as well as information to people distressed by problem air bnbs - and get them as much info and education on what the rules are, how they can help us enforce them.  

If you live next to one of these, AND if as a Town we really get you information and outreach and education on the rules, then at least those people suffering can have some solace and means help us enforce what we can - as a partnership.  We should be partners with our citizens, and not caretakers to the vacationers.  

  I can see several things in our existing regulations that we can use, and some we can beef up and clean up in such a way to be enforceable with a consequence. There are nuggets of regulation we aren't utilizing, which we could.  

This Town Management and Commission wouldn't see them, and the Town Attorney might see them, but he has his own busy practice, and whenever he does work for the Town, its not intensive - BUT IT IS EXPENSIVE!  I can see them though, and provide an outline and plan, rather than having him do it all because he would charge us ungodly sums and take too much time - but I think I can do that as a Mayor with legal knowledge, even though Im not a practicing attorney anymore (I was/am a whip-smart attorney, and it never leaves you).   

If I weren't running for Mayor, Id be good on Zoning Commission.  

Yet, I am running for mayor because there are some major fundamental problems in Town Government in lots of areas that need fixing and setting straight, and I have learned from experience things are getting worse, not better, and unless someone clean and without corruption or conflict gets in there, things are  NOT going to get better.  

But specifically as to Air BnBs I know I could do a great deal of the legwork for free, tightening up our regulations strategically targeted towards addressing problem air bnbs, and for Free, and then hand it to the Town Attorney on a platter for him much less expensively put his seal of approval on.  That is one way I think I will excel as a Mayor.  

The Town Attorney doens't really need to explain anything to me, becauase I get it, and I know our Charter and Code WAY better than he does.  I assure you.  

Let me know if you have any more questions?  

And I'll answer them.  

Al D

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