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Politics

Is Philip Levine's Miami Beach Unfriendliest City in America for Homeowers Who Rent?

March 2, 2017 - 6:00am

Miami Beach, it turns out, is a toxic city for any homeowner who wants to rent out his property during the months he isn't there.  Twenty thousand dollars toxic, actually.

That’s the fine homeowners face if the city catches them renting illegally -- a fine which has skyrocketed from $500 in just a year. That amount doubles, then triples, and continues for repeat violators who rent out their property "illegally."

But homesharing companies like Airbnb say the city of Miami Beach has made the application to rent legally so difficult, it's nearly impossible to follow the law.

At the head of the issue? Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine.

Since raising the penalty last March, the city of Miami Beach has fined residents and rental companies like Airbnb over $4 million and counting. 

By way of definition, Airbnb serves as an intermediary, hooking up homeowners in vacation destinations with travelers -- most of them middle class -- who want to save money. They are the largest such service in the world.

Philip Levine
Philip Levine

Airbnb says Levine and the City of Miami Beach have done nothing but terrorize their business model, making the rental process nearly impossible and spreading a culture of fear among renters who are afraid of advocating for themselves lest they get whacked with a hefty fine. 

All Levine's and the City Commission’s tactics, Airbnb says, are designed to make sure their industry fails. 

 “From the start, Miami Beach has been hostile,” Airbnb spokesman Ben Breit told Sunshine State News this week. “[Levine] is on the frontburner of the problems.”

Breit said Airbnb has never seen any other city slap renters with such high fines -- in New York, illegal renters face a $7,500 fine. Even Airbnb itself was rapped with a $100,000 fine last year.

“[Miami Beach’s] is the highest we have seen anywhere in the world,” Breit said.

Miami Beach’s mayor says those fines should be even larger.

“I think [the fines] can be increased, actually,” said Levine. “Twenty thousand dollars is not enough. Our community is not in favor of short-term rentals.”

The problems don’t stop there. In order to become a “legal” renter, homeowners must fill out a lengthy application laced with roadblocks, confusing language and fees. 

After spending thousands of dollars and being sent around in circles to complete the application, many Miami Beach residents simply give up. 

Airbnb isn’t the only industry that stands to lose out if the city of Miami Beach gets its way. The real estate market has also been struggling to keep its head above water since the city upped the fines. Realtors say their market, too, has suffered and international buyers are hesitant to fork over the cash for properties when they face immeasurable obstacles to renting out their properties short-term. 

Miami property broker Ross Milroy told told Sunshine State News a vast majority of Miami Beach residents only live there part-time, so they are looking to make extra money to cover property taxes for the months they don’t live there.  

But now, when buyers come to him to purchase a property, Milroy said not many hang around out once they’re warned about the high renting fine.

“They turn tail and run,” he said. “They fear limitations. I’ve had people come, look at a property with me and look away. They will go to another municipality [to buy.]” 

Milroy also said property values have gone down because Airbnb has been bullied out of the city. The problem is, there are now too many houses to rent and not enough interested parties willing to haggle with the city over the rental fines.

Milroy questioned whether the crackdown on rentals is illegal -- but even if it is, he says, the push against Airbnb is fishy, especially in a town dominated by tourism -- and the hotel industry. 

“It’s the hotel lobby,” he said. “They are all friends with the commission and Mayor Levine. They all run in the same circle. They all sat down and said, 'What can do to put the kabosh on Airbnb?' That’s what I think they did.”

The City Commission says they’re against homesharing companies like Airbnb because they  “impose on their quality of life” due to irresponsible renters throwing parties and causing a commotion where they live full-time. Police will often pop into residents' homes, questioning whether they're renting out their property. Neighbors will often snitch on suspected illegal renters, creating a culture of fear in Miami Beach.

Despite the setbacks,  guests pumped $253 million into the Miami Beach economy last year alone, spending $250 a day on restaurants, shopping and other commodities in the city. Airbnb contributed its share to the success of the city’s massive tourism industry.

Because of this, the company says fostering a positive relationship with the city is crucial to both parties. Airbnb says it has tried countless times for more than a year to contact Levine’s office and speak with city commissioners to pare down the fines, but all of their efforts have been fruitless because none of the commissioners, including Levine, will return their calls.

The phone rings and rings. No one picks up, Breit says.

Breit told SSN the only way Airbnb can really reach the city is by contacting media organizations to tell their story. 

“The mayor and the commissioners refuse to talk to us,” Breit said. “Our hope is the mayor has bigger fish to fry than imposing punitive measures on their residents.”

The City Commission denied stonewalling Airbnb, but had no further details about their relationship at the time of this article’s release. 

Milroy told SSN the short-term rental fines were creating a toxic culture in one of Florida’s hottest vacation cities.

“There are so many other ways [to make this work,] and five people are blatantly ignoring the rules and causing distress in their communities,” he said. “[Renters] are being very severely impacted by this. Seventy-five percent of the city are renters, how do you justify that? It’s very unfair.”

 

 

Reach reporter Allison Nielsen by email at allison@sunshinestatenews.com or follow her on Twitter: @AllisonNielsen

 

Comments

His term is abut to end! Don't despair. As soon he leaves, fight hard to bring back friendly and fun lifestyle back, the way used to be before that Jewish Fidel took over Miami Beach.

AIRBNB is a Mafia to make few dollars wants to render residents Life a Hell , short term renters with no professional back ground rent to any body any amount any kind of people with uncomfortable dangerous consequences

I am very proud of Mayor Levine and Mayor Regaled of City of Miami who did the right thing by imposing the zoning laws . Zoning laws clearly defines the use of properties and accordingly approve the use of it. Short term rentals are doing the same thing what Hotels do. But Hotels creates permanent jobs, they pay occupancy taxes from many years from which many public projects are built, they take risks their own capital , they follow all state. local, federal guidelines which governs their industry under City laws of land use. Moreover Hotel industry has clear checks and Balances of reporting and paying taxes also. We have survived recessions , BP OIL spill disaster, Zika virus and many ups and downs in past to survive. If AirBnB wants to follow same model of business then they must follow same set of rules under the Zoning law of local municipalities.

There are two kinds of Airbnb rental that need to be separated: The kind where people rent space in their own home when they are there or when they're on vacation, and the kind where people sit on multiple apartments and rent them without concern for the behavior of the guests or the impact on the neighborhood. I have no problem whatsoever with people making extra money on their own personal space. These people have a stake in making sure the people visiting are good responsible people. I have a huge problem with people driving up the entire rental market by sitting on multiple apartments and renting to large groups of people who only plan to get drunk and trash the place. We do not need to throw the baby out with the bathwater. People can be permitted to rent spaces they inhabit themselves, while restricting turning residential neighborhoods into giant unregulated hotel districts.

I am agree with you I am a single mom and I do airnb on one room to pay my son collage but I have rules and for me Is important the people who live around me feel safe No drinking no smoke no parties are some of the rules I have

Levine is a real horse's ass!

Isn't it strange that Miami Beach is more repressive on Airbnb than Communist Cuba? The dictatorial mayor & commissioners pay more attention to the hotel lobby than to President Obama who praised Airbnb during his Havana visit last year: "I mean, it used to be if an American or a German or anybody wanted to come to Cuba, they could go to a hotel, and that was it. Now, suddenly, there are thousands of potential sellers of a great experience here in Cuba, and they themselves become small business people." https://obamawhitehouse.archives.gov/the-press-office/2016/03/21/remarks-president-obama-entrepreneurship-and-opportunity-event-havana

Time to rise up & drain the swamp in Miami Beach especially the hotel lobby that finances the mayor and commissioners. Looks like hotel "corporations are people" in Miami Beach.

Whatever is best for the consumer AND protects the neighborhoods is the answer. We LOVE visiting and having options are best for all. https://primatomma.com/2017/03/07/zip-miami-edition/

Air B&B drives up already sky-high rents and is a zoning violation in most residential neighborhoods. If I wanted to live next door to a hotel I would have bought in an area that's zoned for it.

AirBNB and companies like it are a disaster for condominiums and our local economy. They fail to pay taxes and transients don't treat the buildings right. Not good for property values and I applaud all efforts to ban these companies.

Vote corrupt Levine out!! defend the real tax payers rights!! Airb.n.b is bringing income to north miami beach forgotten neighborhoods and business. Fair taxation and regulations are the solution. Owners have rights!!

The Mayor and Commision are protecting the quality of life for long term residents and homeowners. This news piece is completely one sided and doesn't account for 1) the many areas that ARE zoned for short term rentals 2) the adverse affect that party houses have on our community (noise, crime, litter, lack of community respect) 3) the massive and well documented economic problem that short term rentals have caused in major cities especially those who rely on tourism. The rental rates have increased so dramatically that locals have been completely pushed out of their neighborhoods. Sorry AirBNB, you cant have all of Miami Beach. We residents still want to keep some of it. Lucky you that the Commission does let you have some rentals in designated tourist areas. stay out of our residential areas. period.

If I were a full time resident of Miami Beach in one of the many high density areas I would not be happy about air b&b rentals. The full time residents of the beach would not be happy with the party goers that love their trips to SOBE. At least the hotels have management and security to handle after club revelry. I am no stranger to the beach. I am pretty sure that a lot of the renters would be disruptive. Miami Beach is not a family destination for the most part. To travelers and visitors it's a party town. If you doubt that, stop by the lovely Fountaibleu Hotel on a Saturday afternoon and check out the scene.

Not everyone going to Miami Beach wants to stay and party at the Fountainbleu. There are plenty of people who want to spend time in a single family home with their family @ barbque in the back yard and enjoy some local restaurants & attractions- not party. People should have options, & until this law it was always ok to rent a single family home short term.

VOTE THIS MONEY-HUNGRY, GREEDY PRICK OUT OF OFFICE! HOW DARE HE SUGGEST HIGHER FINES? DO YOU KNOW WHAT THE SALARIES ARE IN MIAMI BEACH? BELOW MINIMUM WAGE IN MOST CASES!!! WHY DOES KEVINW CSRE WHAT PEOPLE DO WITH THEIR CONDOS??? BECAUSE HE WANTS MORE MONEY IN HIS POCKET??? SCREW HIM!!!

I think AirBnB contributes to the city life. I stayed in someone's spare bedroom in New York and loved feeling part of the community. I didn't throw parties, nor am I a felon. I think it should be up to the condo association to decide if they want to allow short term rental in their building or not. Why has the mayor to decide what you do with the property you bought with your own money and you are paying taxes on? On one hand he regulates the short term rental in favor of the hotel industry and does nothing regulating construction in residential areas. He hands out construction permits like candy. I have 5 ongoing constructions within my little zone and some of them work until 8pm and later banging on metal. start at 7am again! Where is the protection from the noise for the residents in this case? What about parking? Residential Parking is unavailable because every worker comes with his own car and wants free parking. If our mayor really is interested in keeping our neighborhood safe and quiet and easy to live in why does he only defend the interests of the hotels and construction industry? We all know why. So cracking down on individuals who try to survive in a city that gets more and more expensive by opening up their home to other travelers is just about the hotel industries interests not the residents that actually are the voters.

Get real, idiots who wrote this piece! The problem with Airbnb is that there are zoning rules in place that are essential for quality of life in Miami Beach. Condominiums that vet renters -- as per condo bylaws -- become dumping grounds for partygoers and felons and worse :( Kudos to Mayor Levine and the city administration for clamping down on this illegal activity! Other cities need to follow their lead.

The party goers and felons are all over your hotels on the beach already. What's the difference? Those that are trying to go through airbnb are trying to stay away from the craziness of the hotels. I'm all for it. I knew I never liked this mayor. It's a mission to cross the causeway into construction non stop from south beach all of the way up past mid beach

Changing zoning rules on homes wothout grandfathering owners in is an unconstitutional taking of rights. Being foreclosed on effects your quality of life more than not knowing your neighbors!

How much did you pay Mayor levine to do that? is the real question.

A dumping ground for Partygoers & Felons? What're you even talking about? Lol. You sound like a moron. How does quality of life increase if property values go down?

Comments are now closed.

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