Airbnb Operator Says St. Augustine 'Cripples' Small Short-Term Rental Owners

Oct 9, 2020

St. Augustine operators of short-term rentals like Airbnbs, also called vacation rentals, must now register their properties and pay a fee along with facing zoning regulations that some say will cripple their businesses

“The most important thing for rental owners to know is that they will be required to register now, regardless of whether or not they have been registered with us in the past.  This is for every rental,” said Planning and Building Director David Birchim in an email to WJCT News.

Registrations are now required due to the City Commission's passing Resolution 2020-27 on Sept. 28, which includes registration fees, annual registration renewal fees, late fees and reinspection fees.

The city also wants short-term rental property owners to know they must adhere to zoning, parking and inspection requirements.

The fee structure is based on the number of bedrooms a rental property has, with a base rate of $294.48 plus $73.81 per rental bedroom.  The late renewal fee is $100, and the re-inspection fee is $50.

  • Studio Rental- $294.48
  • One Bedroom- ($294.48 + $73.81) = $368.29
  • Two Bedrooms- ($294.48 + $147.62) = $442.10
  • Three Bedrooms- ($294.48 + $221.43) = $515.92
  • Four Bedrooms- ($294.48 + $295.24) = $589.73
  • Five Bedrooms- ($294.48 + 369.05) = $663.54

Property owners must also have a Life Safety Inspection done, which is performed at the time of registration - and then annually - by the St. Augustine Fire Department. Inspectors will be looking for smoke detectors, exit signs, emergency lighting with battery back-ups and a variety of other safety measures.

Short-term rental operators must also provide at least one parking spot per bedroom on site.

Short-term rental operators must also adhere to the following zoning requirements, which were adopted last year:

  • RS-1 & RS-2 Zoning: These properties may be rented for periods of one week or longer with approved registration. Nightly rentals are not allowed in RS-1 and RS-2 zoning.
  • HP-1 Zoning: These properties may be rented on a monthly or greater period of time with approved registration.
  • All other zoning districts: These properties may be rented on a nightly basis with approved registration.

Amy and Mason Cardin operate a small Airbnb studio apartment on their property in St. Augustine. 

"The seven day minimum is really going to hurt us. I think our average stay is two nights. And so, we're going to be completely crippled by that," Mason Cardin said Friday.

He believes the regulations are unfair to small business owners. 

"They [the city of St. Augustine] let people come in and invest. They let young people like me and my family - we really depend on this income - like big time. It pays, you know, pays our living costs. So we're either going to be in a position where we'll have to sell our house, and our house value will be less, because you don't have the potential to make an income off of a studio apartment," he said.

Cardin estimates there are about 500 small Airbnb owners in the area in a similar situation. WJCT News has not confirmed his estimate. "We're all going to be out of the rental game here pretty soon," he said.

The city's frequently asked questions page for short-term rental operators includes details on what the Life Safety Inspection includes. Here's where to register as a short-term rental operator in St. Augustine.

Bill Bortzfield can be reached at bbortzfield@wjct.org, 904-358-6349 or on Twitter at @BortzInJax.