MIAMI: If you were thinking of visiting Miami Beach and finding a cheap apartment through Airbnb, it won't be easy: the city is cracking down on short-term rentals.
The city has doled out US$1.6mil (RM6.46mil) in fines against homeowners and websites like Airbnb, HomeAway and Booking.com for listing or renting homes on a short-term basis.
Police have even evicted tourists staying in 31 properties that had been the subject of fines, according to a recently disclosed memo from city manager Jimmy Morales.
Rentals for periods of less than six months and a day are prohibited in much of Miami Beach, an island with an expansive beachfront, turquoise waters and a vibrant nightlife enjoyed by thousands of tourists a month.
The authorities argue that regular residents are fed up with the round-the-clock partying at short-term rentals. And they contend that those who rent out the properties are nothing more than tax dodgers.
"People are squeezing anywhere from five to 10 people in a room at basement rates. They're up all night, they party all night, residents don't want that," said Michael Grieco, a Miami Beach commissioner.
"This is not an issue about tourism, it has to do with people's quality of life. And secondarily it's tax evasion," he said.
Since March, when the city jacked up fines, owners and website operators have been hit with fines ranging from US$20,000 (RM80,821) to US$80,000 (RM323,284), according to the memo which was published by the Miami New Times.
Grieco said hundreds of investigations are ongoing into "thousands of listings."
Some residents are applauding the crackdown.
"You don't want to see people you don't know in your building all the time," said Rafael Belisario.
Discouraging foreign buyers
But not everyone is happy about it.
Ross Milroy, a Miami Beach real estate agent, said he's considering a class action suit and warns that the city is going to discourage foreigners from buying property there.
"Why would, say, a European or even American buyer purchase an investment property or vacation home in Miami Beach if they could not rent it out for any period of less than six months and one day?" he asks.
An Airbnb spokesman, Benjamin Brait, said the online rental lister is "a very small but unique part of Miami Beach's tourism ecosystem, one of the world's greatest destinations."
"We look forward to working with community leaders and stakeholders in the coming months to create fair rules for home sharing," he said.
Miami is the latest in a string of cities across the world which are trying to clamp down on properties being rented out through platforms like Airbnb.
Among them are Berlin, Paris, Lisbon, Vancouver and even San Francisco, where the home-sharing website is based.
Hoteliers in many cities are up in arms over such sites, which have also been accused of driving up property prices. — AFP
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