Hillsborough County issues fines for nightly Airbnb rentals

As Hillsborough County commissioners try to decide how to enforce a little-known law governing short-term rental properties, a farm owner in Thonotosassa faces thousands of dollars in fines for his.

Commissioners are weighing a proposal by Commissioner Sandy Murman to create a registry for short-term rental owners. Murman believes this would help code enforcement officials enforce a law that requires a minimum seven-night stay at all homes in the county that are also operating as rental properties through sites like Airbnb.

"I'm bringing this here because I'm having significant issues with this in Apollo Beach," Murman said during the commission's meeting Dec. 5. "They're just not adhering to any rules [or] any respect of the neighborhood. It's becoming a big problem."

Meanwhile, Rob Canton, who owns Grady Goat Yoga in Thonotosassa, was fined $1,000 a day because, according to investigators, his property is listed on Airbnb and can be rented for fewer than seven days.

"Very, very shocked at it," Canton said. "In all the research that we did, we saw nothing that would suggest that there's any issues with operating an Airbnb."

The county learned about Canton's Airbnb listing during a brief investigation in September.

Canton's farm was being used to set a goat yoga world record and more than 500 attended. A neighbor complained about the parking situation. After a code enforcement investigator came to the property, they found Canton hadn't violated any laws during the record-setting event. The investigator did, however, find the Airbnb listing and began issuing Canton daily fines.

"I'm certainly not alone. If the county is going to decide to actively start doing this, it's going to have a real impact," Canton said. "In essence, that puts every Airbnb out of business that's not booking only longer-term rentals, which is just about every Airbnb that I know of."

What Canton learned is that the county was using its definition of a dwelling, or residential property, to issue fines. The county defines a dwelling as a property occupied for more than seven days at a time. If a property is available to be rented out for fewer than seven days, under county law, it would have to be zoned as lodging. A violation of those zoning laws can result in the fines Canton is now facing.

Canton wonders how many dozens or hundreds of homeowners listing their properties for rent on websites like Airbnb are currently in violation.

"There are a lot of people that rely on Airbnb for their livelihoods," he said. "It just doesn't make any sense to me. Just a year before the Super Bowl is back and a few weeks before the Outback Bowl and all the other events, national championships and everything that we do, the county should be celebrating Airbnb as a viable option."

For now, Canton is fighting the fines. He believes he's in compliance with the law, even though the county disagrees.

Florida lawmakers, meanwhile, passed a law earlier this year the prevents local communities from passing short-term rental restrictions. Cities and counties that already had regulations in place, like Hillsborough, were allowed to keep their laws on the books.