The Real Deal Miami

Appeals court overturns Airbnb victory against city of Miami

Temporary injunction was keeping the city from cracking down on short-term rentals
By Francisco Alvarado | December 06, 2018 05:30PM

Miami Mayor Francis Suarez

A new development in the ongoing fight between the city of Miami and Airbnb has both sides claiming victory.

The Third District Court of Appeals ruling on Wednesday overturned a lower court injunction that prevented the city from enacting new regulations clamping down on short-term rentals in single-family neighborhoods.

In a statement, Miami Mayor Francis Suarez said the city is pleased with the decision, which allows code enforcement officers to begin investigating and issuing fines to property owners who offer homes and rooms for rent on Airbnb and other home-sharing platforms under a resolution approved by the city commission in 2017.

The decision “opens the door for us to join the conversation on how to best regulate home sharing to benefit Miamians,” Suarez said.

Yet, Airbnb’s Florida policy director Tom Martinelli claims the appeals court affirmed the legality of home sharing in Miami, while vindicating home-sharing hosts “who stood up for their and others’ rights.”

“With the Court’s guidance now in hand, we hope to open a good faith conversation with the City and work together on smart, thoughtful short-term regulations for Miami,” Martinelli added.

In April 2017, Airbnb and five Miami property owners sued the city to stop a ban on short-term rentals and the targeting of Airbnb hosts who publicly identified themselves at the city commission meeting when the measure was approved. 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, Airbnb and the five plaintiffs were granted a temporary injunction by Miami-Dade Circuit Court Judge Beatrice Butchko.

According to the lawsuit, a state law passed in 2011 prohibits cities and counties from enacting ordinances that ban or unduly regulate vacation rentals. Under pressure from the hotel industry, then-Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado and then-City Manager Daniel Alfonso ignored state law and without legal authority began prohibiting vacation rental, the lawsuit alleges. The complaint also alleged that the city’s existing zoning code, Miami 21, could not preempt state law.

The Third District Court of Appeals, minus one dissenting judge, disagreed and ruled that Butchko’s injunction is “overbroad.”

Airbnb may have an easier time working with Suarez, who cast one of the two “no” votes against the short-term rental ban in March 2017. At the time, he said some residents in his district were Airbnb hosts and relied on the extra income to help pay their mortgages. Suarez also said his office had not received any Airbnb-related complaints.