Lawsuit challenges Miami Beach's ban on short-term rentals

Miami Beach property owner challenges city's fines

By Amy Viteri - Investigative Reporter

MIAMI BEACH, Fla. - Just two years after the city of Miami Beach imposed some of the harshest fines in the country for short-term rentals, the city is facing a lawsuit. 

Local 10 has documented the complaints from Miami Beach neighbors regarding issues caused by short-term renters, including noise concerns and wild parties, but other residents said renting their homes is a necessity and the city’s crackdown has been harmful. 

"It’s devastating," said Miami Beach resident Natalie Nichols. "It’s financially devastating."

Nichols is now suing the city, working with the nonprofit civil rights group the Goldwater Institute. She said when she bought her homes on Stillwater Drive, it was legal to rent for short terms. The city banned the rentals in most areas in 2010, but in 2016 the city really cracked down. Owners were fined $20,000 for just the first offense, increasing with subsequent violations. 

"I think it's excessive and unfair," Nichols said, "It's like, why are we deciding who can come into my house? That's what you have private property for."

Real estate broker Ross Milroy helped Nichols bring the lawsuit after starting an advocacy group for rental reform. 

"I think it's a huge problem, because the Miami Beach economy is based on tourism," he said. "And it's a very seasonal economy here. It always has been and it always will be."

Milroy said the ordinance has scared off more than one potential home buyer. 
 
"We find the right property, they're ready to pull the trigger they learn about these ordinances and they walk away. They don't invest," Milroy said. 

That ordinance is also hard to enforce Milroy said. Local 10 News learned since the ordinance went into effect in 2016 the city has issued $12 million in fines. Of that it has collected just $174,000. 

Nichols said the city should use laws already on the books to control the amount of renters in one home or handle noise violations. Milroy says the city’s economy needs the short-term renter. 

"We don’t have the capacity or the demand to fill these properties and most of these properties are commanding rents that are well above the average household income we need the tourist dollar," Milroy said. 
 
Miami Beach Chief Deputy City Attorney's office wrote a statement regarding the lawsuit.

 
"The Plaintiff's allegations, which seek to challenge the City’s Ordinance(s), are wholly improper, and are unequivocally devoid of any legal merit.  The assertions in the lawsuit are a futile endeavor, which has been inappropriately initiated, in order to excuse the unlawful conduct of the Plaintiff," the statement says.  "The City of Miami Beach anticipates that the Circuit Court will not entertain these meritless allegations, and will enter an order properly dismissing the Plaintiff's claims surrounding this matter."    
 

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