Sarasota's growing number of short-term rentals may have an impact on housing crisis

Categories: Stories of Impact, COMMUNITY CARE: Placemaking: Housing, Transportation & Economic Support,

Noise, traffic and changes to community character are the topics that tend to dominate recent debates about the area's booming increase in short-term vacation rentals.

But Cicely Hodges at the Florida Policy Institute is more concerned with short-term rentals' severe impact on affordable housing.

Hodges is the institute's new housing and community development policy analyst, adding her statewide expertise to a special focus on Sarasota, Manatee and DeSoto counties.

In Hodges' recent analysis of short-term rentals, she found that the city of Sarasota and its surrounding unincorporated communities alone have a whopping 6,654 active short-term rentals listed through AirBnb and Vrbo - an increase of more than 1,000 units since 2021.

The analysis comes as the Sarasota City Council considers extending its regulations on vacation rentals from the barrier islands to its mainland neighborhoods. On the mainland, the city counts about 700 vacation rentals, though some might be owner-occupied and therefore not subject to regulations.

Hodges' numbers on Sarasota were gleaned from AirDNA, an online vacation rental data and analytics company, and they encompass a slightly bigger area.

The website's map of Sarasota's 6,654 listings include the mainland city as well as the barrier island communities of St. Armands, Lido Key and Siesta Key, and parts of unincorporated Sarasota County.

The latter is significant because a Sarasota County ordinance bans short-term vacation rentals or stays of less than 30 days in single-family residential districts.

The volume, Hodges noted, is likely exacerbating the housing crisis by cutting into the supply of long-term rentals through the conversion of those units and buildings into short-term vacation homes.

"It's driving away rental opportunities," Hodges said. "How many people are forgoing housing or choosing to rent short term?"

In addition, studies show that short-term rentals contribute to rising overall rental rates and home prices.

Other communities in the region also are facing growth in short-term rentals. Ranking second behind Sarasota among the 13 cities Hodges analyzed was Bradenton Beach with 2,340. Third was Bradenton - which included part of unincorporated Manatee County - with 2,265.

Hodges recommends that local governments join forces to pressure the state for the return of its rights to more forcefully control short-term rentals - control that has been pre-empted by the Legislature over the last dozen years.

At the same time, cities and counties need to push for LLC transparency - to question the argument that these vacation rentals are mostly mom-and-pop endeavors versus investor enterprises.

"Is there anti-trust monopolistic activity going on? Price settings?" she said, listing several lines of inquiry to explore once transparency is established. "Are there only a few beneficial owners actually controlling the market? And who are they?" she added.

Not giving up

Sarasota City Commissioner Jen Ahearn-Koch has been battling to do just that.

As a member of the advocacy committee for the Florida League of Cities and various other committees, Ahearn-Koch said local leaders work tirelessly throughout the year to lobby legislators for home rule - providing specific examples of the damage done by "one-size-fits-all bills."

"We know what's best for our communities," she said.

Short-term rentals are precisely one of those damaging examples - changing the characters of residential communities while worsening the affordable housing crunch, she said.

"There is no way you can have a discussion about affordable housing without having a discussion about short-term rentals and the impact they've been having," she said. "They are inextricably connected."

Yet state laws have pre-empted local governments from prohibiting vacation rentals or regulating their duration or frequency - though ordinances and rules in effect before 2011 were grandfathered in.

While cities can use other types of code enforcement tools to regulate the rentals, they've complained that the laws strip away their zoning authority - allowing what are in effect commercial enterprises to overtake residential neighborhoods.

Ahearn-Koch has been a forceful proponent of extending Sarasota's regulating ordinance from the barrier islands to the mainland in the wake of the industry's growth.

The regulations amount to various fees and requirements on registration and taxes as well as a number of safety and behavior standards. The city also has maintained its minimum stay of seven days and nights.

Officials, she said, have been hearing from residents all over the city about the damage done to their neighborhoods by short-term rentals, including the impact on affordable housing.

Houses in working-class communities that once offered long leases and affordable rents are now being bought out, renovated or torn down, replaced by "hotel houses" that are built to the lot line and turned into vacation rentals, she said.

For now, the city is doing what it can with the tools it has left.

"What we are trying to do is regulate it and to keep people safe," she said. "Those are the things we can do and those are the things we are doing. Everything else we are pre-empted from the state."

But she's not done with the fight.

"I am an optimist," she said. "I'm just not going to give up trying to hammer the message of home rule and how these things negatively impact our communities."

This story comes from a partnership between the Sarasota Herald-Tribune and the Community Foundation of Sarasota County. Saundra Amrhein covers the Season of Sharing campaign, along with issues surrounding housing, utilities, child care and transportation in the area. She can be reached at

See this story as it originally appeared in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune on Sept. 7, 2023, here.