Gov. DeSantis expands business reopenings—vacation rental operation on horizon

EXPANSION OF reopenings of restaurants and other businesses, plus reopening of gyms, were part of an executive order issued by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis on May 15.

By DOTTY NIST

Effective May 18, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has expanded some reopenings in Florida, including restaurants, retail, libraries and museums—and has provided for the limited reopening of gyms, most of which had been closed for almost two months in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

While not reopening vacation rentals with the order, Gov. DeSantis set the stage for counties to seek approval to reopen these rentals through submittal of a request and safety plan.

These were among the provisions of Executive Order (EO) 2020-123, dubbed “Full Phase 1: Safe. Smart. Step-by-Step. Plan for Florida’s Recovery.” The order was released on May 15.

Gov. DeSantis noted that the measure was in line with the White House’s Guidelines for Re-Opening America Again.

As a result of EO 2020-123, restaurants may expand indoor seating from 25 percent to 50 percent of customer seating capacity, and the use of partitions between tables may be substituted for the existing requirement for at least six feet between tables.

With the order, seating at restaurant bar counters remains closed. As previously, full outdoor seating of customers may continue, combined with the following of social distancing requirements.

EO 2020-123 expands retail sales at stores from 25 percent to 50 percent of building occupancy combined with observance of U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) safety guidelines.

If permitted by local governments, local public museums and libraries are allowed to expand operation from 25 percent to 50 percent of building occupancy.

Most gyms were closed on March 20 by executive order of the governor and had remained closed. (Gyms serving as amenities of residential buildings, those inside fire or police stations, those inside single-tenant office buildings , and those with 10-person or less capacity that serve as amenities of hotels had been exempted from the closure.)

EO 2020-123 allows previously-closed gyms to reopen at 50 percent of building occupancy on the condition that safety measures are observed, including social distancing for classes. Another requirement is the gyms making available cleaning supplies/sanitation wipes sufficient to allow for, at a minimum, post-use cleaning of machines and related surfaces by customers after each use.

The order directs that professional sports will be allowed to operate, “and may host training, competitions, events and games.” It preempts local governments from adopting rules prohibiting these operations.

The measure allows amusement parks to submit reopening plans with guidelines for safety, with the additional requirement of an endorsement letter from the local government.

There is also a provision for counties to make written request for reopening of short-term vacation rentals, combined with submittal of a plan for safe reopening in conjunction with the request. These rentals are currently under indefinite suspension by governor’s order, having been closed down at the end of March.

As of May 15, Walton County had sent a letter requesting the reopening of vacation rentals and had also submitted safety plans for reopening of these rentals, followed by no immediate response from the state.

EO 2020-123 extends flexibility put in place for local government public meetings in response to the pandemic, including suspension of the requirement for a quorum of the local government body to be present at a meeting and for the government body to meet at a specific public place, along with providing the option for use of communications media technology for meetings such as telephonic and video conferencing.

Any violation of EO 2020-123 is considered a second-degree misdemeanor and is punishable by imprisonment for 60 days or less, a fine of $500 or less, or both.

Safety measures for the reopenings associated with the order are provided on the state Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) website at the link: http://www.myfloridalicense.com/DBPR/emergency/

Another recent executive order issued by Gov. DeSantis, EO 2020-121, extends through June 1 his earlier EO providing for limited extension of mortgage foreclosure and eviction relief. That measure had temporarily suspended any statute providing for eviction under Florida law as related to non-payment of rent by residential tenants due to the COVID-19 emergency.

These EOs, along with Gov. DeSantis’s other 2020 executive orders, may be viewed online at https://flgov.com/2020-executive-orders/