In Miami Beach, it's no secret that the hotel industry is the city's biggest economic engine. City Hall certainly knows who pays the bills. This past in March, the city voted to begin fining Airbnb-like short-term renters a whopping $20,000 a pop.
One thing that is not in dispute: The city has not been shy about handing out the new fines, which can go to anyone renting a space for less than six months and one day. According to a memo that City Manager Jimmy Morales sent to the city commission last week, Miami Beach has levied $1.59 million in fines against short-term landlords since the new fines have been in place.
In the August 17 memo, Morales writes that the city has issued 106 fines since March 9. Four of those fines, totaling $80,000, went to Airbnb, Inc. It's also illegal to advertise a short-term rental in Miami Beach, and the city says it caught Airbnb advertising in town on three occasions and renting out an "apartment/townhome" on 14th Street.
The city says it issued penalties to Airbnb, Booking.com, and Homeaway.com a total of 18 times for advertising in the city. The memo also says that in 31 cases, the city called the police department and had short-term renters evicted onsite.
Elsewhere, a few individual landlords appear to have racked up more than $100,000 in fines. SoBeautiful Lifestyle LCC, a company owned by landlord Reed Zaroff and managed by Jamey Kolka, has had $240,000 in fines levied against a property at 244 W. Rivo Alto Dr. At least three of the fines apparently stemmed from advertisements the city says the LLC had been running.
Another property, at 2232 Alton Rd., which the city says was related to Gleason Properties LLC, Miami World Rental LLC, and Airbnb, was fined at least $225,000.
The crackdown has hit an industry that once operated with relative impunity on the Beach. One short-term-property owner tells New Times that although multimonth or single-week rentals have long been illegal in the city, code compliance didn't begin citing him until Mayor Philip Levine was elected in 2013.
After that, the landlord says, code-compliance officers began knocking on his doors at all hours and harassing his tenants. "They would threaten to shut off the power or turn my water off," he says.
Before March, the landlord says, it made economic sense for landlords like him to continue renting properties illegally and rack up fines because they could charge enough in rent to cover the penalties.
"It was definitely worth the price of business," he says. "Now there is a $20,000 violation for less than renting your property six months and a day."
The property owner argues that the city's strict rule has the unintended consequence of forcing out anyone who's staying longer than a typical hotel stay but too short for a full half-year rental.
"If you've got a family coming in from Paris for the summer, or a celebrity filming here who wants to stay in a house instead of a hotel, or a Saudi prince coming for two months who needs more privacy than the top floor of the Setai [a luxury oceanfront hotel in South Beach] can give, you can't do anything," he says.
Though hotel owners — and the city government — view the new rule positively, the landlord says the city's six-months-and-one-day time limit makes no sense.
"I'd understand if they wanted to ban weekend rentals," he says, "but this is completely unreasonable. It's just so over-the-top. It just shows the hotel lobby has a much stronger hold on this administration."