VRMA Advocates for Safely Reopening Florida to Vacation Rentals
Last spring, the COVID-19 pandemic dealt a significant blow to vacation rentals and local economies. Concerned about health and safety, governors moved quickly in March and April to close all vacation rentals to guests. In a span of only 60 days, thousands of housekeepers, maintenance staff, and other industry professionals were out of a job, or furloughed indefinitely. The impact was felt strongest in Florida, where a significant portion of revenue comes from the vacation rental industry, and where there is a high concentration of VRMA members.
In May 2020, Florida began to take steps to reopen its economy. However, vacation rentals were not included among the list of businesses allowed to reopen. Although they offer a safer, socially-distanced, and self-contained option for travelers, they were kept closed, while high-touch hotels and resorts were permitted to open their doors.
As a result, VRMA, in partnership with member companies Inhabit IQ, Rented.com, Key Data Dashboard, and Breezeway, appealed to Florida Governor Ron DeSantis to reopen the sector ahead of the critical Memorial Day weekend. The holiday marks the start of a four-month peak season that not only sustains rental operators but also financially props-up the communities and local municipalities where they do business and pay taxes. After May 21, VRMA warned, the industry would suffer irreparable economic hardships. Bankruptcies would ensue, and small vacation rental businesses would fall like dominoes, leaving hundreds of thousands of employees without work.
ASHLEY HORSELY’S STORY
That scenario was Ashley Horsely’s worst nightmare and almost became a frightful reality. She is CEO of 360 Blue, which rents a stable of 640 private residences along the Florida Panhandle. Ashley and her business partners scratched and scraped, even suspending pay to themselves, to keep the firm’s 155-member staff on the payroll and above water during the pandemic. And, like the rest of the industry, they had to create an environment where returning guests could feel confident that they were protected.
“We had taken apart and rebuilt nearly every process in our company to adapt to the safety and health concerns,” Horsley explained. “And, as a result, I can say with total confidence that we had a system, and homes, that were just as safe—perhaps even safer—for a guest to use as their own home.”
Ashley Horsely says 360 Blue had to refund more than $11 million to booked guests between March and mid-May 2020. Had VRMA not stepped-in to petition the governor, she would have lost another $1.5 million in refunds going out the door.
“I cannot thank VRMA enough for their work in helping to protect my business, and the industry in Florida,” Ashley notes. “Policymakers need to understand the value our industry brings to the state, so that something like this doesn’t happen again. We are the professionals, and because of that, we were able to reopen safely, safeguard jobs, and contribute to economic recovery.”
VRMA’s advocacy efforts compelled the governor to safely reopen Florida’s vacation rentals on May 18, 2020. In doing so, VRMA helped to prevent several hundred businesses from going under, saved jobs, and allowed thousands of guests to enjoy safe, clean, socially-distanced lodging.
Turning the Regulations Tide on the Coast of South Carolina
North Myrtle Beach is a gorgeous coastal community steeped in the traditions and economy of the vacation rental industry. But, not unlike other towns, the discussion of regulations rose as quickly as the tides during the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic last year.
In the spring of 2020, the North Myrtle Beach community was rocked when its city council announced proposed regulations to significantly limit the total number of vacation rentals made available to guests. Over the next several months, those regulations increased, negatively impacting our industry, and making the lives of area property managers unnecessarily difficult.
With the proposed regulations looming, VRMA helped to quickly organize a coalition of property managers and industry supporters to speak out against unfair regulations, with a unified voice and a focused action strategy.
By working collaboratively, area property managers and industry supporters formed the South Carolina Vacation Rental Management Association (SCVRA).
SCVRA brought in former North Myrtle Beach councilmember and vacation rental policy expert Jeff Coffee, who helped create a positive outcome where vacation rentals were able to continue business operations with limited disruption.
In the final stages of the draft regulation proposal, the North Myrtle Beach City Council unexpectedly announced a damning parking ordinance impacting vacation rental guests with little notice. Thanks to the swift actions of VRMA and SCVRA, the proposal was quickly amended to benefit our industry within two days.
Final rules are expected in the coming months, and it's safe to say the outcome will be better because property managers, with the assistance of VRMA, were able to quickly and thoroughly educate local officials on the critical economic impact vacation rentals bring to North Myrtle Beach.
Springing to Action in Georgia
Like many local governments, Glynn County, Georgia frequently discussed proposed restrictions on vacation rentals. During a five year-span, draft restrictions on vacation rentals would be announced, debated, and shelved.
In 2019, the Glynn County Commission was focused on approving restrictions to address perceived community concerns regarding vacation rentals, largely due to a few bad actors operating locally.
With the Glynn County District Attorney leading the charge, area property managers were facing proposed restrictions that would negatively impact their business.
VRMA sprang into action, working quickly to organize local property managers and area businesses to help advocate for the vacation rental industry. Working directly with the VRMA Advocacy team, property managers in Glynn County proposed revised regulation focused on allowing professional vacation rental managers to operate, while addressing the few bad actors. Property managers worked hand-in-hand with Glynn County officials to develop new rules on noise, parking, trash, and occupancy, achieving mutually beneficial results.
These results were made possible thanks to the tireless work of VRMA and area property managers over the course of several years. This included collaborative work with the Golden Isles Convention and Visitors Bureau, the Glynn County Commissioners, and the Glynn County District Attorney.
The Glynn County regulations have been adopted and the focus on compliance was achieved. These rules are now being used as a proven model for communities throughout Georgia by the newly formed Georgia Vacation Rental Alliance.
Photo credit: Golden Isles CVB