CELEBRATION – Quick question: which public lodging and food service establishment administrative rules apply to vacation home rentals? Is it chapter 61C-1, 61C-3, 61C-4, or 61C-8 of Florida law?
David Leather glanced out at the room filled with people who have spent years, even decades, building a career in Central Florida managing a vacation home as a short term rental property for tourists and business travelers. And when he was greeted with silence, he knew he was on the right track.
“You’ve got to be very careful you get it right,” Leather said, “because if you don’t get it right, sorry, you have to go back to the beginning and start all over again.”
Leather is the manager of Hays Vacation Homes in Kissimmee, a property management firm that oversees numerous vacation homes, or fully furnished houses rented to families who come here on vacation and would prefer staying in a house with multiple bedrooms, a kitchen, and private pool, rather than a hotel room.
Leather is also a member of the Central Florida Vacation Rental Managers Association, the trade group that represents property managers in this region. He’s the association’s Vacation Home Manager Certification Program chairman, or the one who has spent the past year working with a committee to develop a new certification program for property managers.
This is a move designed to give the vacation home industry a stronger ethical foundation, and to allow the industry to police itself, by introducing an exam that members will be required to take to get certified to work in this field. The test is now available online. Members will be asked to read modules that outline the rules and regulations that vacation home managers are required by state and county rules to operate under, then pass an exam at the end.
Module one, for example, will cover licensing and tax responsibilities.
“There are five modules to this certification program,” Leather said. “They will all be done online.”
An example of a test question is, Must an operator of a transient establishment maintain a register of the guests, yes or no. The correct answer is yes.
Another example: The sales and service tax is paid on the gross or the nett rental rate? Leather, who came to Kissimmee from his native England to start a business here, said this question sometimes trips up British business owners in Central Florida.
“What makes it completely confusing is that nett and gross mean completely the opposite in England than it does here in the states,” he said. “In England, nett means no tax and gross means with tax.”
So his advice to the members before they take a crack at the exam is to be certain they know the rules ahead of time.
“You have to read through each slide,” he said. “Once you have read through the slides and learned them, you take the exam. At the end of the slides, there will be 20 questions.”
The certification program will be one of the top projects for the CFVRMA this year, but not the only one, said An Flamand, the new president of the association, during the trade group’s first meeting of the year, held on Jan. 19 at Mystic Dunes Golf Club in Celebration.
“My strength is in marketing,” said Flamand, a Realtor and operator of USA Vacation Homes, a vacation home property management firm in Davenport. “That’s something I want to bring to the board.”
Throughout 2012, Flamand said, CFVRMA would host regular educational workshops for its members, which will focus on “things that every small business owner can bring back to their company. It’s going to be very interactive.”
Colin Young, who served as the association’s president in 2011 and will serve as vice president this year, said they did well in the past year and have every reason to expect improvements over the next 12 months.
“I think it’s been a great year,” Young said. “The membership has grown marginally, which I think in this economic climate is very good. The membership has been stable, with a bit of a small increase over the past year.”
He also said the introduction of the certification program on Jan. 7 was a terrific start to the new year.
“We have worked hard with the certification program,” he said. “We are very pleased to see that has come through. We’re looking forward to seeing the results online. It’s been a hard year, but it’s been a fun year, too.”
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