Bay Area rental owners await word from state as Panhandle counties get green light

For Nicki Rust, the bookings on her Anna Maria Island property have come to a stop, but the mortgage payment has not.

“The bills don’t stop,” she said. “The money that we pay to the state and the county doesn’t stop.”

Rust is one of thousands of short-term vacation rental owners barred from opening their doors since March 27, when Gov. Ron DeSantis banned the rentals to stop the spread of COVID-19.

“We were not allowed to book anymore vacations,” she said. “It was a very frustrating process.” 

It’s the same for Victoria Gudbranson, whose mother rents out two bedrooms in Hillsborough County on Airbnb. She says she’s had to pick up several side jobs to make up for it.

“It is $2,200 a month. That makes a big difference between paying your mortgage and utilities on time, and not,” Gudbranson said. “I’ve been having to take on a part time job, shopping for Shipt and Instacart to help out with the bills.”

Manatee County vacation rental owners are among those waiting to hear back from the state.

On Friday, DeSantis said counties could submit vacation-rental reopening plans to the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation. 

“The plans got to include how you’re going to approach this, what are the safety precautions going to be,” DeSantis said Friday. 

Some counties were quick to submit proposals, and several were approved Tuesday afternoon by Tallahassee. All included the directive that tourists from coronavirus hot spots like New York are either not permitted, or if they are, their rentals must be for longer than the quarantine period.

“Parts of the Panhandle have been incredibly affected,” DeSantis noted Friday. 

So far these eight counties in the Florida Panhandle are approved (click to read each county’s proposed safety plan): 

- Escambia County

- Santa Rosa County

- Okaloosa County

- Walton County

- Bay County

- Gulf County

- Franklin County

- Wakulla County

By Tuesday, Hillsborough, Pinellas, Hernando, Manatee and Sarasota counties had submitted plans to Tallahassee. 

LINK: Read Pinellas County's proposed vacation rental regulations (PDF)

Toby Babich, who runs the Vacation Rental Management Association, says in many ways, the individual rental properties can be considered safer options than hotels. 

“Let’s say you’re in Georgia,” Babich said. You can drive from your home to your rental home in Florida and not encounter a single person, and when you get to that home, you’re going to be greeted with the same clean and safe product that a hotel room guarantees when they travel.” 

Rust, who’s owned The Sunset Inn along Holmes Beach for two years, believes the county or state government should consider a rebate for homeowners, for the time they were unable to rent.

Babich says, while a good idea, he doesn’t believe it’s feasible.

“The most impactful thing I think owners can do is work with their mortgage companies to look at forbearance and loan modifications during this pandemic, so they can defer their house payments for three to six to 12 months,” he said. “That’s been the most effective thing we’ve been communicating to our owners.”

With the Memorial Day weekend approaching, Rust says, she hopes Manatee County will get the green light before the holiday.

“The beaches are open, and the island is actually busy, however, none of the vacation rental owners can participate in that revenue,” she said. 

READ: See Manatee County’s proposed vacation rental regulations (PDF)

In Sarasota County, their proposal includes allowing reservations from people within the U.S. from states with a COVID-19 case rate less than 700 cases, as of May 18.

Sarasota County's vacation rental plan can be viewed below:

Hillsborough County released a detailed plan Tuesday, requiring hosts to stagger arrival times, limit access to common areas and ban groups larger than 10 people. 

The Hillsborough County proposal can be viewed below: