Airbnb and five homeowners sue city of Miami over vacation rental crackdown

Airbnb and City of Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado
Airbnb and City of Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado

Airbnb is teaming up with five Miami homeowners to take on city government and Mayor Tomas Regalado.

The tech company, along with Yamile Bell, Toya Bowles, Gary Levin, Ana Rubio and Kenneth Tobin, sued the city on Friday to stop Miami officials from enforcing bans on short-term rentals and for targeting Airbnb hosts who publicly identified themselves.  

An Airbnb spokesperson declined comment and The Real Deal was unable to reach Regalado or Miami City Manager Daniel Alfonso, both of whom were not in their offices. The lawsuit was filed in the wake of both officials’ public comments that Miami code enforcers would be issuing notices of violations to homeowners who outed themselves during a contentious city commission meeting last month.

“The city is now acting to make good on those threats,” the lawsuit states. “Airbnb stands together with its Miami hosts in opposing the city’s unlawful efforts, and in particular stands with the brave individuals who have come forward and seek to protect their rights.”

Airbnb and the homeowners are represented by Mitchell Berger, a Fort Lauderdale-based constitutional lawyer who became famous as one of the lead lawyers for Al Gore in the 2000 presidential recount. Berger could not be immediately reached for comment.

According to the lawsuit, the Florida Legislature passed a law in 2011 prohibiting cities and counties from enacting ordinances that prohibit or unduly regulate vacation rentals. Airbnb alleges Miami government officials, under pressure from the hotel industry, ignored state law and without legal authority began prohibiting vacation rentals on Aug. 11, 2015.

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The lawsuit alleges that the city is trying to take advantage by claiming an exemption for cities and counties that had regulations on vacation rentals prior to June 1, 2011. “The city, however, did not have any such ordinance or regulation which expressly prohibited vacation rentals,” the lawsuit states. “Instead, it attempted to belatedly and impermissibly reinterpret its existing zoning code, Miami 21.”

The lawsuit also describes the Miami homeowners suing the city. Bell is a Cuban-born Miami resident and former Spanish language radio show host who hosts vacation rentals in her Coral Gate home to earn money for her children’s’ home schooling. Bowles and Levin are a Coconut Grove married couple. He is the founding dean of Larkin Hospital’s pharmacy college and she is the principal medical science liaison for Johnson & Johnson subsidiary Janssen.

Rubio is a Miami-Dade Public Schools physical education teacher who rents her home to supplement her income and meet new people, the lawsuit states. And Tobin is the founder of Tobin Construction & Painter who rents his Coconut Grove home to Airbnb guests when he is away on business trips or vacation.

Bell, Bowles and Tobin were among dozens of residents who spoke against a proposed resolution prohibiting vacation rentals in single family neighborhoods during the March 23rd city commission meeting. Shortly following the meeting, Alonso and Regalado said the city would cite homeowners who revealed themselves as Airbnb hosts.

The lawsuit claims Regalado followed through on his threat on April 11 when he appeared on a local television newscast to declare several people had received notice of violations.