Cease-fire in City of Miami’s Airbnb battle appears likely after appeals court reversal

An appeals court has sided with the City of Miami over Airbnb, giving the city the go ahead to punish thousands of Airbnb hosts accused of illegally renting their homes on the site.

But both sides see Wednesday’s decision as more of a cease-fire in the battle over short-term rentals in Miami. With a new mayor in charge since the last spat and direction from the appeals court about which hosts may qualify as legal, the city is likely to hold off on handing out fines just yet.

“This is a victory for City of Miami residents,” said Mayor Francis Suarez. “It also opens the door for us to join the conversation on how to best regulate home sharing to benefit Miamians. We look forward to bringing everyone to the table to ensure that Miami can continue to evolve as a modern city.”

Suarez has taken a much softer tone toward the short-term rental start up compared to his predecessor Tomás Regalado. It was Regalado’s 2015 zoning opinion that made it illegal to rent properties in Miami’s residential neighborhoods for less than one month. After a spirited 2017 city commission meeting about the short-term rental ban in which hosts pleaded to be allowed to rent their homes, the commission reaffirmed its illegality and went a step further by asking the hosts for their contact information so the city could penalize them. Suarez, then a commissioner, voted against the measure, calling it “embarrassing.”

Then-City Manager Daniel Alfonso said the city would start going after outspoken hosts immediately. “We are now on notice for people who did come here and notify us in public and challenge us in public,” he said at the hearing. “I will be duly bound to request our personnel to enforce the city code.”

That prompted Airbnb and a handful of hosts to sue the city. In April 2017, a trial court sided with Airbnb by temporarily blocking Miami’s city government from going after hosts and taking down their information. Wednesday’s appeals court decision overturns the prohibition on enforcement. But, in its opinion, the court made a distinction between homeowners who live in their property and rent it out occasionally, and rental companies that buy up homes and rent them out full time, saying that occasional renters likely do not qualify as illegal.

Under the new mayor, Airbnb doesn’t see the decision as a setback.

“We are grateful that the court affirmed the legality of home sharing in Miami and vindicated our hosts who stood up for their and others’ rights,” said Tom Martinelli, Airbnb Florida policy director. “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.”