ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — Believing thousands of homes are illegally being kept off the market as short-term rentals as housing costs soar, an Orange County commissioner says she’s found a way to force them off sites like Airbnb and Vrbo without costing taxpayers a dime.
Currently, the county does not allow short-term rentals in residential zones, which includes most neighborhoods, as well as townhomes and condos.
However, a quick search of the major listing sites shows homes for rent in every corner of the county, including more than a dozen properties in one residentially zoned Azalea Park neighborhood WFTV visited Thursday.
Commissioner Mayra Uribe’s proposal would have the county hire a company to track down illegal short-term rental listings and gather information on their owners.
“What if you could actually house a couple, two people there for a year as opposed to just seven days or whatever vacation, because we really have a huge need [for housing],” she said. “There is no quick fix.”
Orange County is projected to be short 54,000 housing units by 2030, data from the Florida Apartment Association shows, with the shortfall most severe among low-income households.
Since many short-term rentals are found in lower- to middle-class neighborhoods that don’t have HOA protections, the plan would theoretically add housing stock where it is most in demand.
Calling illegal short-term rentals an issue she hears about “constantly” from her constituents, Uribe’s two-for-one plan piggybacks off itself to assist other parts of the county.
The companies the county would solicit bids for also specialize in tracking foreclosures, staff explained. Uribe’s proposal would create a foreclosure registry. Banks with properties on the registry would pay a fee for their maintenance and ensuring the properties are safe to prevent blight like the county saw during the Great Recession.
Uribe said the fee would also cover the cost of the tracking services.
The proposal is based on similar programs implemented in Tampa, Miami and Jacksonville. Uribe said her team is still uncovering additional benefits.
“When we get squatters, what we’re talking about a crime issue,” she explained. “Now this [ownership] data would be available to law enforcement… immediately when they go to a house.”
Houses on the registry would be removed once they are sold to a new owner.
Uribe, who introduced her plan as a discussion item in a memo last week, said she’s looking forward to hearing the thoughts of her fellow commissioners in an upcoming public meeting.
“We can be proactive,” she said. “It’s getting discouraging to be reactive because we’re not reacting to anything.”
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