Airbnb and Miami Beach Are at War. Travelers Are Caught in the Crossfire.


“That property has never been open on Booking.com for customers,” said Kimberly Soward, a spokeswoman for the company, who added, “Booking.com always abides by the applicable laws of the market we operate in.”

Natalie Nichols, a longtime Miami Beach resident, is one of the rare former Airbnb hosts willing to be interviewed. She is currently suing the city over the steep fines Miami Beach imposes on homeowners. Ms. Nichols said she began renting out space in her own home as well as in another building that she has owned since 2006. But it wasn’t until the financial crisis in 2008 that she depended on rentals for income.

That year, she said, “I was laid off of a pharmaceutical sales job I had for 14 years. Long-term tenants of mine quit paying rent and broke leases.” Renting out her properties short term allowed her to make money and avoid foreclosure, she said, as well as to pay taxes, mortgage and insurance.

But complaints about short-term rentals grew and the city increasingly cracked down. Owners caught renting illegally are fined $20,000 the first time they are caught, with the fine going up in $20,000 increments for every subsequent time they are caught. On a second violation there can be an added $25,000 enhanced fine if the home is 5,000 square feet or larger.

A $20,000 fine was enough for Ms. Nichols, who said she sold one home and is living in the other without the income to sustain it.

“I am depleting my retirement savings, and the city has taken a business from me that should have produced income and carried me through retirement,” she said.

In December, MerkAveli, an artist from Boston, traveled to Miami Beach for Art Basel. He reserved a shared room on Airbnb for a weekend but because of car trouble needed to extend his stay, which his host, a woman named Dina, welcomed. While Dina was out one morning, code compliance officers knocked on the door and told Mr. Aveli the rental was illegal and he had to leave. Dina returned to the house and tried to advise Mr. Aveli on what to say if the officers returned to ensure he’d left.



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