Opinion | Compromise on short-term rentals can protect communities and property rights
State Sen. John Stevens, Guest columnist, Knoxville News Sentinel on April 03, 2018
At his State of the State address, Gov. Bill Haslam issued a challenge to the people of Tennessee: “I want Tennessee to lead the nation in jobs, education and government efficiency. I don't just want us to compete; I want us to be the best.”
To be the best requires thoughtful public policies that offer a measure of certainty for businesses to invest. Tennessee’s $19.3 billion tourism industry powers our economy, thanks to a long-term strategy to make our state more attractive as a destination to travelers from throughout the world. In fact, our popularity has grown to the point that our thriving Tennessee hotels are among the nation’s most profitable statewide lodging industries.
Thankfully, Tennessee homeowners allow our state to take full economic advantage of the increased tourism demand in the process. This occurs through short-term rentals, which allow homeowners to share an extra room or rent a whole home to travelers. With the rise of the entrepreneur economy, technology platforms like HomeAway and Airbnb make it easier than ever to connect Tennesseans with visitors, while ensuring trust and safety thanks to background checks and vetting of users.
It’s well-known that short-term rentals expand lodging capacity and welcome more visitors during big events, whether it’s the Beale Street Music Festival in Memphis, Vols games in Knoxville, or NASCAR races in the Tri-Cities. In Nashville alone, HomeAway data showed $477 million in economic activity thanks to short-term rentals.
Additionally, we have found that these platforms help infuse economic activity and tourism to much more rural areas of the state where hotels are few and far between. According to Airbnb’s data, rural Tennessee homeowners outside of the top 10 most populous counties welcomed 175,000 guests as local homeowners earned over $21 million in income in 2017. I love seeing Tennesseans taking full advantage of their private property rights and earning valuable additional income.
Of course, as a state we must find the balance between reasonable local regulation and constitutionally protected private property rights. In collaboration with my colleague, state Rep. Cameron Sexton (R-Crossville), I have introduced thoughtful compromise legislation to outline statewide short-term rental standards and protect property rights, while at the same time preserving important local government regulatory controls. House Bill 1020 passed last year, while the Senate Bill 1086 will soon be heard for a full floor vote.
Importantly, this legislation fully empowers municipalities to regulate short-term rentals and tailor new rules as they see fit. They would also maintain the right to restrict permitting for short-term rentals on a prospective basis. However, for such a difficult public policy issue, this legislation recognizes that property rights are very important and that the right to use one’s home as you see fit must be safeguarded.
Therefore, Tennesseans currently legally permitted by their cities to operate their homes as short-term rentals would be grandfathered and protected under state law, as long as they continue to rent their homes responsibly. This legislation reflects common sense -- we cannot pull out the rug from under law-abiding Tennessee homeowners who invest in their properties and support the tourism industry.
Should these bills become law, they would further solidify Tennessee’s reputation as a national leader in pro-technology and pro-business public policies. I encourage my colleagues to support this critical legislation and help realize our shared vision for economic growth and certainty throughout our state.
John Stevens, R-Huntingdon, represents the 24th District in the Tennessee State Senate.