State Sen. Greg Steube says his measure protects individuals' property rights.

MANATEE COUNTY – An organization of hoteliers urged Manatee County and other local jurisdictions to oppose a bill by state Sen. Greg Steube, R-Bradenton, and a companion bill in the state House, that would strip local regulations of vacation rentals.

“It’s an issue of fairness,” Bharat Patel, Florida regional director of the Asian-American Hotel Owners Association, told Manatee’s Tourism Development Council on Monday.

Patel said the legislation would gut the long-standing concept of “home rule,” which allows counties and cities considerable leeway in governing their communities.

As a county commissioner and former mayor of Holmes Beach, “I 100 percent understand home rule,” TDC Chairwoman Carol Whitmore said.

Whitmore said Manatee officials were in Tallahassee last week, emphasizing to state legislators that they oppose any attempts weaken home rule.

Being an advisory board, the tourism council did not feel comfortable taking a political stance in terms of passing its own resolution. Yet it recommended that the County Commission continue to discourage the Legislature from interfering with local governments’ ability to regulate short-term rentals.

In a recent guest column for the Herald-Tribune, Steube argued the hotel industry is on the defensive and trying to snuff out competition such as Airbnb, a service that enables homeowners to rent rooms to guests.

Steube and other proponents of the legislation say they are defending individuals’ “constitutionally protected property rights.”

“The only difference between a vacation rental and renting out your private property under the landlord-tenant law is the length of time your occupant stays,” Steube wrote. “The fact is, travelers love the options they have with vacation rentals, and the authentic experiences they enjoy staying in rented rooms, homes, apartments or condos. A recent statewide survey found that 93 percent of Floridians believe Florida should be permitted to rent accommodations other than hotels – such as vacation rentals and bed-and-breakfasts.”

His legislation would require owners of short-term rentals to obtain a state license at a cost not to exceed $1,000 annually and be charged with a second-degree misdemeanor for operating without a license. One license could cover a maximum of 75 units.

Steube believes his opposition is “about taking away consumer choice and protecting hotel market share. … Last year it was Uber and Lyft versus taxicabs and now it’s the national and state hotel lobby declaring war on vacation rentals.”

He noted that local governments and hoteliers are displaying an attitude similar to China, which recently suspended home-sharing services such as Airbnb in Beijing.

Patel, who said his association represents about one of every two hotels across the United States, contends that an attack on home rule “really does open up the door.”

If the state determines what is allowed in neighborhoods, such as vacation rentals, “that will impact the property value of your home,” Patel warned.

As an example, he noted, some communities prohibit the raising of chickens in backyards – while others may permit it in less urban areas. Such decisions are made on the local, not state, level, he emphasized.

“I don’t think one size fits all,” Patel said.

Just 16 percent of Manatee’s vacation rentals are hotel rooms. The remainder are privately owned houses and condos, the owners of which must levy a 5 percent county tourist development tax just as the hotels and motels do. The county uses the proceeds from that tax to fund the tourism bureau, promote itself as a destination and take on tourism-related projects such as beach restoration.

Manatee County Tax Collector Ken Burton Jr. previously told the tourism board that he is having difficulty with Airbnb, for example – because it does not want to identify all of the local homeowners that use its reservation service and would prefer to pay their tourist development taxes in a lump sum rather than have them charged individually.

Patel said it becomes increasingly difficult for registered hoteliers to compete with Airbnb and similar operators, who charge as little as $37 a night and do not pay taxes.

“It really does kill jobs” in the hotel industry, Patel said.

TDC member and Anna Maria City Commissioner Doug Copeland said the legislation would strip his island community of its vacation rental ordinance, which requires inspections.

Steube’s legislation calls for such inspections to be “preempted to the state.”