As more people see vacation rentals as an investment opportunity, some are hitting a wall in St. Augustine Beach: A cap on the number of vacation rentals allowed.
The city allows up to 100 transient lodging facilities, rentals of less than a month or 30 days, in medium density residential land use areas — hotels and motels are excluded from that count. The city gave approval for the 100th unit on June 27, according to Dariana Fitzgerald, deputy city clerk.
Both St. Augustine and St. Augustine Beach are dealing with the vacation rental trend.
St. Augustine Beach saw transient lodging facilities increase from more than 20 in fiscal year 2013 to more than 80 in fiscal year 2017.
The beach doesn’t limit the number of transient lodging facilities allowed in commercial land use areas, and 27 of them are registered with the city in those areas, according to Fitzgerald. The facilities aren’t allowed in other land use districts.
Beach Mayor Undine George said commissioners plan to revisit the issue and discuss, with public input, whether to increase the 100-rental-unit limit. The city has had a few complaints from people who are buying properties with the impression those properties can be used for rentals, and then finding that the city isn’t allowing more in that area.
The city’s regulations were in place before state lawmakers clamped down on the ability of local governments to regulate vacation rentals, beach officials said. The city attorney is expected to come to the Commission with an opinion on how changing regulations, such as the cap on vacation rentals, might affect existing laws, George said.
“We may lose the ability to regulate them,” City Manager Max Royle said.
Several years ago, Florida lawmakers decided local governments couldn’t regulate duration and frequency of vacation rentals. Existing local laws were grandfathered in, but some local officials fear that changing or adding to existing regulations could put those rules in jeopardy.
Both the Beach and St. Augustine want changes at the state level to have greater ability to regulate vacation rentals, such as those tied to Airbnb.
Short-term rental units in St. Augustine are residences for one or two families that are rented four or more times annually, according to City Code.
In St. Augustine, vacation rental owners are only required to register with the city if the rentals are in the RS-1 or RS-2 zoning districts, according to David Birchim, director of the Planning and Building Department. People who run vacation rentals in other parts of the city aren’t required to register, so it’s not clear how many are operating in St. Augustine.
As of Thursday, there were 110 short-term rental properties registered in the city of St. Augustine, according to data from the Planning and Building Department.
St. Augustine City Manager John Regan said vacation rentals are changing the character of neighborhoods in the city. He said he and others are looking into ways the city can address the spread of vacation rentals.
“We don’t see an end to this,” he said.