On June 25, 2020 a record number of 5,511 new positive cases of COVID-19 were reported in the State of Florida. In Indian River County (IRC), 35 new cases were reported and four hospitalizations. There are only 11 ICU beds available in IRC.
To date, 109K cases have been reported in Florida with 3,281 deaths. Indian River County has had 369 cases with 14 deaths.
With his March 27 Executive Order Governor Ron DeSantis said “many cases of COVID-19 in Florida have resulted from individuals coming into the state of Florida from international travel and other states, posing great risk to Florida residents” and added that “vacation rentals and third-party platforms advertising vacation rentals in Florida present attractive lodging destinations for individuals coming into Florida.”
On May 18, Governor DeSantis issued executive order 20-123, “Bringing all Florida Counties into Full Phase One. As per Section 4, Vacation Rentals:
“Counties may seek approval to operate vacation rentals with a written request from the County Administrator and the County’s Safety Plan for vacation rentals operations submitted to the DBPR Secretary…”
IRC Administrator Jason Brown submitted a detailed safety plan to reopen vacation and short term rentals in the county that was approved, allowing the plan to go into effect immediately on May 23.
The detailed plan includes safety measures such as the constant cleaning of glassware, tableware, utensils, kitchen appliances, refrigeration equipment and frequently touched surfaces. Visitors and staff should continue to wash their hands regularly with soap and water. Staff?
For a complete list please visit:
So who is going to monitor and ensure that safety measures at the short- rentals and transient boarding houses are being followed? We have made two attempts for a response to this question from IRC Major Eric Flowers, having received no response.
Fellsmere Sheriff Keith Touchberry responded saying the monitoring of short-term rentals “does not fall under the purview of local law enforcement unless the matter at hand is criminal in nature or they are assisting the DBPR.”
This should be a campaign discussion between Major Flowers and Sheriff Touchberry who are running for IRC Sheriff. As well as retired sheriff’s Captain Charles ‘Chuck’ Kirby, and Indian River Shores Public Safety Department Director Rich Rosell.
However, in the FAQ for Executive Order 20-123, “Bringing all Florida Counties into Full Phase One, it states that “local law enforcement” is to enforce the Executive Order.
According to the Institute for County Government, “So far, 50 counties have had their vacation rental plans approved.”
We researched each counties plans, and 37 of the 50 counties’ plans (we couldn’t find data on the rest) were approved by their County Commissioners, some voting unanimously. Why didn’t our IRC Commissioners have a public meeting and vote on the plan, or even vote not to have a plan?
On another matter regarding the licensing of short-term rentals, there are 80 County licensed transient boarding houses operating in Indian River County. The internet-based room dealing platform VRBO/Homeaway lists 614 transient boarding houses for rent in Indian River County, the overwhelming majority for less than 30 days.
This computes to a license compliance rate of 14% for VRBO/Homeaway listings only and does not include the 300 plus listings for AirBnB, the largest online room dealer.
The monitoring of licensing also falls to local law enforcement as per this excerpt from November 13, 2014 letter to Wilton Manors City Attorney Mr. Kerry L. Ezrol from Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi with regarding to the licensing of short-term rentals:
Section 509.241(1), Florida Statutes, makes it a misdemeanor of the second degree to operate a public lodging establishment without a license. The statute further provides that local law enforcement shall provide immediate assistance in pursuing an illegally operating establishment.
Also note that IRC transient boarding houses (TBH) are permitted by the IRC Board of County Commissioners to operate without commercial insurance.
Then there is the issue of executive immunity. Would IRC officials be held liable if a person dies from COVID-19 as a result of reopening short-term rentals?
In summary, it appears IRC law enforcement has no plan to protect us from “from individuals coming into the state of Florida from international travel and other states, posing great (COVID-19) risk to Florida residents.”
Or to pursue “an illegally operating establishment.”