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Keys Tourism Agency Calls For Crackdown On Unlicensed Rentals

Bob Krist
Florida Keys News Service

The tourism industry in the Florida Keys is booming with high occupancy and record-high room rates this season. Still, the Monroe County Tourist Development Council this week released a report (see it at the end of this post) on unlicensed vacation rentals and rental scams, calling for a crackdown by local governments.

The Keys have 15,000 licensed lodging units — that includes hotel rooms, campsites and homes with licenses for short-term rentals. In most of the Keys, short-term is defined as less than a month.

But the number of unlicensed vacation rentals has grown in recent years, driven by the growth of websites like Airbnb and VRBO (Vacation Rental By Owner).

If the rentals aren't licensed, then they're not paying the four percent bed tax that funds the Keys TDC, as well as other county agencies such as the Land Authority, which buys property for conservation and affordable housing.

Since January, the Monroe County Tax Collector's Office has taken over auditing and enforcement of the bed tax collection. In that time, the office has opened more than 130 tax compliance cases and collected more than $25,000 in additional taxes, according to the report.

The report recommends that local governments in the Keys require Airbnb to start collecting taxes on rentals through the site. And it recommends warnings for visitors on how to avoid vacation rental scams. In those cases, typically a person rents a home and wires money but arrives to find that the property isn't for rent.

Throughout the Keys, most homes cannot be rented for less than a month without a special license. According to the TDC, that also applies to renting a room within a home, a common practice on Airbnb. Short-term rental licenses are strictly limited by Keys municipalities.

Here is the TDC's full report:

Nancy Klingener covers the Florida Keys for WLRN. Since moving to South Florida in 1989, she has worked for the Miami Herald, Solares Hill newspaper and the Monroe County Public Library.