On March 27, 2020, citing a “great risk” to Florida residents relating to external travelers bringing COVD-19 virus to Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis signed Executive Order No. 20-87. The order places severe, but temporary, restrictions on vacation rentals throughout Florida.

By its terms, the duration of the Governor’s order was 14 days, and the temporary restrictions would have expired on Friday, April 10th. However, both Lee County and Governor DeSantis took steps late afternoon on Friday the 10th to extend the prohibition through the end of April 2020 – with Lee County adopting Lee County Emergency Order 20-01, and Gov. DeSantis signing Executive Order 20-103. The substance of both the state and county versions of these orders is virtually identical, and both extend the rental restrictions from April 10th “until April 30, 2020” with the ability to extend by subsequent order(s).

Violations could result in jail time

Under the order, “all parties engaged in rental of vacation rental properties” (as defined in Chapter 509, Florida Statutes) must “suspend operations”. Additionally, new reservations, new bookings, and new guest check-ins are prohibited under the Governor’s order. Violation of the order is a second-degree misdemeanor, which carries a maximum sentence of 60 days in jail.

Are there any exemptions? What if I rent my home to a healthcare worker?

Importantly, the order exempts hotels, inns, resorts, long-term rentals, current rentals, and rentals to certain individuals (e.g., military, emergency, healthcare professionals, and non-vacation rentals).

The law

The right to rent one’s property is a valuable “stick” in the “bundle of rights” of property ownership. This valuable right cannot normally be taken from a property owner without some form of compensation. However, during times of public health emergencies that threaten the safety of all residents, regulations like these orders – i.e., aimed at protecting the public health – have historically survived judicial scrutiny under the government’s “police power” as long as they are tied to science and not arbitrary (see, e.g., Jacobson v. Massachusetts, 197 U.S. 11; 25 Sup. Ct. 358 (1905)).

While the Governor has the presumptive authority to terminate these restrictions before April 30th, given current forecasts for COVID-19’s denouement in Florida, combined with the extension language in the orders, this seems unlikely.

The impact of these temporary restrictions on vacation rentals, online platforms, private property rights, and related income streams, remains to be seen. But it is encouraging to see our local and state leaders in lockstep on this important component in local efforts to combat COVID-19.

When can I rent my home again?

These restrictions are set to expire on April 30, 2020. We will continue to follow this issue, and any state and county announcements that have an impact on our clients and our community.

If you have concerns about the impact of these orders on your rental property or plans, contact me at jeff.wright@henlaw.com.