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Restrictions being lifted on new Florida vacation rental bookings

Each county must submit their own safety plan
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Posted at 5:39 PM, May 19, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-19 23:57:51-04

PINELLAS COUNTY, Fla. — New reservations for vacation rentals could soon be allowed across Florida. It comes after nearly two months of new bookings being suspended.

In late March, Governor Ron DeSantis banned new reservations for vacation rental companies statewide to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Counties are required to submit plans to the state about how vacation rentals, including those listed on websites like Airbnb and VRBO, will keep guests safe.

Pinellas and Manatee Counties are the first in the Tampa Bay area to submit plans to the state. The plans include a series of new rules to keep guests safe. These include remote check-ins, deep cleanings, social distancing rules, mask and glove requirements for housekeeping staff/cleaning crews and suggestions on changes like one-way entrances and exits into buildings.

Vacation rental companies tell ABC Action News they’re anxious to start welcoming people back.

Perrin Albertson, an employee with Liberte Management Group, says they are ready with plans in place.

“Our owners and our management companies are so excited to open again, and we are totally ready.”

Steven Rodriguez of Florida Lifestyles Vacation Rentals agrees.

“We’re doing everything right, and we are ready to go. We’re just waiting on that green light,” he added.

Governor DeSantis has yet to officially decide if vacation rentals should restrict visitors from COVID-19 hot spots like New York City. Still, Pinellas County leaders decided to leave those restrictions off the table.

“We didn’t require that for hotels, and so I’m concerned that we create a different playing field for all of our businesses, and they should be consistent,” County Administrator Barry Burton said.

Meanwhile, Manatee County did decide to restrict visitors from certain areas. Under the plan sent to the Governor's Office Tuesday, rental agencies may only accept bookings from residents of U.S. states with an overall COVID-19 case rate of less than 700 cases/100K residents as of May 15, 2020. According to the county's suggested rules, reservations from COVID-19 hot spots are to be avoided for the next 30- 45 days. Reservations from international travelers will also not be accepted in Manatee County.

County Administrator Cheri Coryea said the guidelines will be mostly self-policing, but if people spot potential violations, they can report them.

"We have the ability to write citations or to issue a notice to appear, but we are hoping that, just like re-opening our public beaches, that vacation rental owners and visitors will abide by these guidelines," Coryea said.

Both Pinellas and Manatee Counties sent the guidelines to the Department of Business and Professional Regulations (DBPR) for review before being sent to the Governor's Office for final review.

The governor already approved a handful of counties Tuesday to start taking new vacation rental bookings. Pinellas and Manatee County leaders hope their approval comes in time for Memorial Day Weekend.

“We have stuck to our guns, followed the Governor’s order and have not rented at all at any properties and we all have our fingers crossed,” Colleen McLachlan of Liberte Property Management company added.

As counties are approved to allow vacation rentals to start booking new reservations, they’ll be added to this list.