How To Save Airbnb From Local Governments

by Jared Meyer | Forbes.com 

To ring in 2017, two million people booked a room through Airbnb for New Year’s Eve. This is impressive given that the short-term rental company is less than ten years old. It is even more impressive that Airbnb reached these numbers while under a deluge of government regulations and even outright bans.

The amount of local short-term rental restrictions continues to grow, but Florida may become one of the first states to step in and ensure that this rapidly-growing income and travel option remains available. This month, Senator Greg Steube introduced SB 188 to stop local governments from regulating Airbnb out of town. SB 188 follows the model pioneered last year in Arizona, which prohibited local governments from banning or restricting short-term rentals based solely on their “classification, use, or occupancy.”

In the following interview, Senator Steube talks about the need for his bill and the problems with overregulation from municipal governments.

 

Jared Meyer: What type of anti-Airbnb regulations have you seen in Florida? And how would local short-term rental regulations change under your bill?

Greg Steube: First, I want to clarify that my legislation does not address “Airbnb” regulation. Airbnb, like HomeAway and others, is an online platform that connects people who have extra space with those looking for a short-term place to rent. These platforms do not own or manage short-term rentals.

Especially over the last few years, I have seen dozens of local ordinances regulating short-term rentals. The range of regulation includes $10,000 a day fines, government inspections with only one hour of notice, exorbitant licensing fees, special utility and water assessments, excessively restrictive time frames for use of private pools, and requirements for privacy and noise-buffering fences.

As these examples show, local governments’ goal is often to so heavily regulate short-term rentals that they are essentially prohibited . Additionally, because they can single out short-term rentals and treat them differently from all other forms of housing, local governments feel unfettered to pass these onerous regulations.

Under my bill, a local government could not prohibit short-term rentals or treat them differently from any other form of housing. My bill would force local governments to apply the same regulations irrespective of whether the property is not rented, rented long term, or rented short term. It is my hope that local governments will address “good neighbor” concerns as they arise. This can be done by using existing nuisance ordinances rather than solely focusing on the use of the property as a short-term rental.

JM: Why is local preemption for short-term rentals one of your priorities this year?

GS: I am a private property rights advocate, and I firmly believe it is not the role of governments to pick winners and losers. Property owners who own their homes and live in them full time, property owners who choose to rent their property on a long-term basis, and property owners who choose to use their property as a short-term rental all have the same protections under our constitution. It is incumbent on government to treat them equally.

JM: I see this type of legislation going far beyond the short-term rental market and tech unicorns like Airbnb. This is also part of the larger push to protect Florida residents from overreach by local governments that threatens peoples’ property or livelihoods. What role do you think states have in ensuring local governments respect property rights and economic opportunity?

GS: All governments have the duty to uphold our constitution. In Florida, local governments’ regulatory powers are susceptible to statewide preemption. From my perspective, the state has an absolute obligation to protect property owners from local governments that systematically choose to impair or destroy their property rights. This is exactly what is occurring throughout Florida when it comes to short-term rentals.

I am also sponsoring SB 330, which prohibits local governments from charging excessive annual fees for the “privilege” to work. This is a widespread problem in Florida. For example, lawn maintenance workers in Jacksonville have to pay $200 a year to work, Tampa photographers must pay $174 just to earn money by taking pictures, and interior decorators are required pay $402 in Palm Beach. Beyond protecting property rights from local government overreach, it is also critical that we do not allow excessive fees to stand in the way of someone’s right to earn a living .

JM: Senator Steube’s approach in Florida prevents local governments from playing favorites. If a local regulation is necessary to protect the public or minimize nuisances, then that regulations should apply to all housing—regardless of if a home is rented out or not.  As technology continues to change the ways people live, work, and travel, state policymakers need to be on the lookout for local policies that stand in the way of economic progress .

 

Jared Meyer is a senior research fellow at the Foundation for Government Accountability. Follow him on Twitter here.