Understanding HOA rules on home exchanges and rentals can be difficult. How can homeowners use sites like Airbnb without breaking their community agreement?

Q: My HOA community has a “four-month minimum” rental restriction. I don’t have a major problem with that. However, as a retiree, I belong to a home exchange group in order to be able to travel affordably. (Free lodging makes travel cheap.) 

I want to exchange my home for another for just a few weeks but the community requires me to sign that four-month agreement no matter how short the exchange. 

Here’s the problem. I have a homestead exemption on my home. I was told that in Florida you can only do a maximum of one three month rental every two years or you lose the exemption. The lease agreement for four months makes it appear I’m “renting” my place for a full four months which would automatically preclude more than one vacation even if it’s just two or three weeks within two years! 

What do you suggest we do as we want to travel as often as possible and take advantage of the free lodging we get with the home exchange and don’t want to lose our homestead exemption. Many thanks for the advice on this sticky wicket.

Home Exchanges and HOA Rules Don’t Always Mix 

A: In so many ways, the law hasn’t kept up with technology. Airbnb, HomeAway, and other home swap sites have sprung up over the past 10 years or so and have, to a great degree, enabled the vacation and lifestyle community as never before. 

But, as you’ve discovered, while coping with technology, homeowners associations are also trying to meet their owners’ needs to not have their communities become transient destinations, filled with short-term rentals and all the problems that this brings. 

Your community association has a four month minimum rule on rentals and you should know that in many places community associations commonly require a rental minimum of six, 12 and even 24-month minimums. 

You have to look at the purpose of these restrictions. In Florida, we assume they have a minimum four month restriction to allow homeowners that wish to rent out their homes and make some money to do so over the winter months when many people from the north go south to avoid the snow and cold.

This would allow an owner to rent out the unit for the month of December, January, February and March without problems. But what they want to avoid are multiple rentals over that same time period and limit the number of different people that may use the home at different periods of time during the year. We guess that the association could have a minimum rental requirement of three months, but it looks like your homeowners association has decided to be more restrictive. Maybe they’re open to testing different time periods? 

In the past we’ve received letters from readers that ask about home swapping and other different leasing arrangements. The reality is that you purchased the home for your own use and once you let someone else live in your home, the association wants to put restrictions on those uses. 

As home rental websites have grown and home exchange sites give people the flexibility that you love when you travel, each time someone comes and goes from your home is someone new that the association has to deal with. Some community associations may not mind short term rentals or even daily rentals, but most do care and want their homes within the association to remain owner occupied or rented for a longer period of time.

The State of Florida has its own rules when it comes to your qualifications for the homestead exemption. Whether the State of Florida counts the number of actual days the home was rented or not rented is a different issue. A lease could be for a 4-month term, but if the unit is actually only leased and rented for one month, you might be able to argue that the home was only leased for one month. 

But, you should know most community associations that have wised up to owners setting up leasing agreements or other housing arrangements for longer terms only to allow the user of the home to break the arrangement early. Associations have passed rules that place a huge fine on homeowners that try to circumvent the leasing restrictions of the association. If you’re thinking about going in that direction, please read your association rules carefully so you avoid a fine.

We don’t have a solution for you. You purchased in this development and should have read the rules before you purchased your property. You also knew what the State of Florida requirements might be for the homeowner exemption. Your own travel wants and needs seem to be in direct conflict, so unless you’re prepared to go to the association board and try to get them to change the rules, you’re probably stuck.

What you have to do now is decide whether you’re going to fight for some sort of change (maybe a 2-month rental minimum?), live within the rules as they now exist, or sell and move to a different development that does not have the same sort of rental restriction (fair warning: read the fine print before you buy your next home). Sorry we don’t have a solution for your sticky wicket. 

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