Owen: Protect private property rights
Justin Owen, Published by Chattanooga Times Free Press on February 27, 2018
Imagine being diagnosed with an inoperable tumor and having to quit your job as a result. Imagine the financial toll as medical bills pile up with no resources to pay them. Then imagine that you can rent out an extra bedroom in your home to help make ends meet, put food on the table and pay your health care expenses, all by listing your home for rent online.
This is exactly what home sharing allowed Tennessean Erin Laughlin to do. She was able to use the sharing economy to provide for herself financially in a time of need. Tennesseans from all walks of life have turned to services like Airbnb and HomeAway to rent their homes on a short-term basis.
As home sharing has grown in popularity, so too has the heavy hand of government attempting to regulate it. The hotel industry sees home sharing as a threat, and has lobbied extensively at all levels of government to try and shut down its competition, similar to what the taxi cartel tried to do to Uber and Lyft. And unfortunately for those relying on home sharing as a source of income, the hotel lobby and government busybodies are succeeding.
Tennessee cities now have a patchwork of regulations and bans that make it hard for anyone to understand what their rights are when it comes to renting out their home part-time. And some cities have even banned home sharing after years of allowing it, giving out permits for hosts, and collecting taxes on it. This is patently unfair.
This hodgepodge of restrictions and bans needs to be addressed. Certainly, we need to ensure that our neighborhoods remain neighborhoods, and that we prevent bad actors from creating noise, parking and other nuisance issues. But we should not punish law-abiding homeowners who engage in home sharing for the actions of a select few like many local governments have done.
A proposal pending in the state Senate, SB1086, strikes the right balance between homeowners' property rights and neighborhood concerns. It permits cities to regulate home sharing in a variety of ways to preserve our neighborhoods. It allows cities to require permits for those engaged in home sharing, set limits on how many people can stay in a home overnight, revoke a person's ability to rent their home if they commit noise or other codes violations, and even tax the practice to help pay for things like education, safety and roads. The bill also allows homeowners associations and other HOA-like entities to ban home sharing in their neighborhoods if they choose to do so.
On the flipside, the bill simply prevents cities from banning home sharing outright if a homeowner is abiding by the law and not creating problems. It also creates a process to ensure that homeowners who choose to rent their homes are treated fairly under the law.
Allowing local officials to reasonably regulate home sharing is important, but cities should not have a blank check to violate property rights or make it so difficult to rent out your property that it becomes effectively impossible.
The proposed bill is a sensible compromise. We shouldn't tell people like Erin Laughlin they are prohibited from using their home to help make ends meet. Protecting private property rights is a core Tennessee value.
Justin Owen is president and CEO of Beacon Impact, a nonprofit organization that advocates for free markets, individual liberty, and limited government in Tennessee.