Several vacation rental owners in Tampa Bay filed a lawsuit against Florida Governor Ron DeSantis on Thursday, claiming his executive order violates their constitutional rights.
The governor issued an executive order on March 27 suspending vacation rental operations with stays shorter than 30 days.
But it explicitly stated “This directive shall not include…Hotels, motels, inns, resorts, non-transient public lodging establishments, or time share projects.”
The prohibition was later extended by another executive order and “remains in effect for the duration” of the governor’s current executive order outlining his “Phase 1: Safe. Smart. Step-by-Step. Plan for Florida’s Recovery.”
Patrick Leduc represents a plaintiff group of several people and small businesses that are suing the governor because their businesses have been shut down, while hotels and resorts can stay open.
“[DeSantis’ executive order] violates equal protection,” Leduc said as he began to list the five arguments he made in the lawsuit, only one of which needs to be successful for the judge to rule in his favor. “The order does not provide our plaintiffs due process of law which is protected under the 4th, 5th, and 14th amendment.”
Leduc said the executive order was also overly broad and vague, violated the U.S. Constitution’s contracts clause, and violated the Florida Constitution.
Joe Varner owns both the Anna Maria Beach Resort and several rental properties on Anna Maria Island. He also manages Anna Maria Vacations, which he said is the largest rental property management company on the island, with more than 250 properties.
Varner has “the exact same type of lodging,” he said. “One can take bookings and receive business, and the other can’t.”
A self-described “staunch Republican,” who said he voted for and supported DeSantis, believes it’s not difficult to see why vacation rentals are being treated differently than hotels and resorts.
“I know why that is,” Varner said. “Basically it comes down to the hotel and motel lobby industry here in Florida is extremely powerful.”
At least seven people on Governor Ron DeSantis’ Re-Open Florida Task Force represent large hotel chains, resort groups, or lodging associations. There are none specifically representing vacation rental owners.
In a statement to 8 On Your Side, a spokesperson for the governor’s office wrote in part “Vacation rentals will be reopened, as will other businesses such as hair salons, barbershops and tattoo parlors, as soon as the safety and well-being of Florida residents can be best assured.”
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