Brevard County seeks state approval to reopen vacation rental businesses

Governor likely to approve plan

FILE - This Sept. 28, 2018, file photo shows the living room of a flat that will be available for short term rent in London. Marriott is pushing more heavily into home-sharing, confident that its combination of luxury properties and loyalty points can lure travelers away from rivals like Airbnb. Marriott has been testing in London in partnership with a home-sharing company called Hostmaker. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth, File) (Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

BREVARD COUNTY, Fla. – Individuals and companies that operate vacation rentals in Brevard County are one step away from getting back in business — after two months of being idled by the coronavirus pandemic.

The County Commission on Tuesday unanimously approved submitting a detailed plan to the state to allow Brevard's vacation rentals to reopen. The proposal was introduced by Commissioner John Tobia.

“It’s important that the County Commission allows these small-business owners to get back to work,” Tobia said after the meeting.

Halsey Beshears, secretary of the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation, on Tuesday approved plans submitted by Bay, Escambia, Franklin, Gulf, Okaloosa, Santa Rosa and Walton counties that allow vacation rentals to immediately resume operations, just as the busiest tourist season starts in the region.

Brevard's proposal is likely to get approved as well, as it is modeled after the Bay County proposal.

Seven residents affiliated with the vacation rental sector came before the County Commission on Tuesday to ask the county to submit a reopening plan for their industry.

They said it was unfair that they still could not operate, when hotels, motels, time-shares, campgrounds and other facilities catering to tourists can.

In late March, Gov. Ron DeSantis banned vacation rentals in an executive order aimed at curbing the spread of COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the novel coronavirus. He said the move was meant to discourage visitors from places known to be hot spots for the virus, like New York and Louisiana.

Last week, DeSantis announced the ban on vacation rentals could be lifted in individual counties — if county and state officials gave the go-ahead.

DeSantis last week said he did not want vacation rentals opening their doors to people from New York City, which he has repeatedly blamed for contributing to Florida’s early uptick in coronavirus infections.

The three-page Brevard County plan for reopening vacation rentals details various staffing and property cleaning procedures for the facilities.

For example, staff that deals with the public must wear face masks and gloves, unless a Plexiglas barrier or other physical barrier separates the staff member from the guest.

Staff also must receive a “wellness check” when arriving at work, which, at minimum, is a temperature check. Staff with a temperature of 100.4 degrees or higher would not be allowed to work.

The Brevard County plan indicates that, for vacation rental reservations from areas the governor identifies as high-risk, guests occupying those vacation rentals "must adhere to the quarantine restrictions or be subject to established criminal and civil penalties."

Speakers addressing the County Commission said reopening vacation rentals will put people back to work, including housekeeping staff, as well as boosting the collection of state sales tax and Brevard County's 5% tourist development tax on short-term rentals.

Some of the speakers contended that vacation rentals are safer than hotels, as far as preventing the spread of the coronavirus is concerned. That's because the housing units are larger than hotel rooms, and there generally are fewer shared spaces, such as restaurants and lobby areas, with less interaction with staff and other guests.

"We are safe, and should be allowed to reopen," said Cindy McGrath, manager of the Inidan Harbour Beach Club.

The News Service of Florida contributed to this report.