Perspectives: Time to rethink code enforcement

Image by St. George News

OPINION – Stephen Palmer has been a friend of mine for over a decade.

In that time, I’ve watched him become a New York Times bestselling author, a mentor, and a problem-solver of the highest order. Palmer is one of the most solid examples of personal character I’ve ever met.

That’s why I’m watching with fascination as the City of St. George is doing its best to make him into a criminal.

It all started with a “courtesy notice” that Palmer received a couple of weeks ago from a city code enforcement officer. The so-called notice was a pleasantly written threat accusing Palmer of violating two city codes.

The Palmers were warned to come into compliance with city code or they would face increasing fines and being charged with a class C misdemeanor punishable by up to 90 days in jail.

What the Palmers have been doing, unbeknownst to their neighbors, is allowing travelers to rent the basement of their home for short-term stays as an Airbnb host.

This program allows homeowners with spare room to rent it out for $30 or $40 a night compared to the nearly $100 per night a hotel room would cost. This enables a homeowner the opportunity to fill a market niche for those who just need a place to sleep and don’t want the added expense of a hotel.

It also provides a nifty way to generate extra revenue as a means of helping to make the house payment.

In the Palmers’ case, they not only had a full basement to rent but also a private entry and parking right on their own property. In several months of participating in Airbnb, none of their neighbors even knew they were hosting guests, much less complained of it.

But the watchful eyes of St. George Code Enforcement are hired to seek out and rein in property owners who take the idea of property ownership a bit too literally.

Palmer was told that city code prohibits short term rentals in residential neighborhoods and requires a business license for anyone who is generating revenue.

If the Palmers comply with the city’s demands by shutting down as an Airbnb host, it will take a minimum of $12,000 per year out of their pockets.

Considering that they’re only realizing between $1,000 and $1,500 a month in extra revenue, that’s a powerful disincentive to keep going.

Even if they were to simply continue on and pay the fines to the tune of roughly $750 each month, it wouldn’t be profitable to continue.

It’s at this point that someone will be tempted beyond their ability to resist trotting out the threadbare cliché about, “Don’t break the law and there won’t be any problem.”

They fail to recognize their mindset is the root of the problem.

City codes that preemptively punish or seek to prevent property owners from utilizing their own property are based upon the assumption that anything not under municipal control is somehow out of control; but is it?

These stringent codes may represent a form of economic protectionism in the form of the city trying to discourage even minor league competition to the commercial lodging market.

We’ve certainly seen similar attempts across the country to rein in ride sharing operations like Uber and Lyft in order to protect the heavily taxed and regulated taxi services.

When government seeks to prevent new or innovative ideas from entering the marketplace, it’s acting in the same manner as a good old fashioned mafia protection racket.

But that’s just one possible explanation.

There’s another, even more disturbing, aspect of this type of code enforcement. It’s the entitlement attitude that residents have a right to inflict their preferences by force upon their fellow property owners.

This is why city officials, when questioned about overbearing code enforcement, conveniently hide behind the excuse that, “This is what the voters want. A clean, orderly city.”

But that doesn’t change the fact that the city is initiating force against property owners who have violated no one’s rights in any measurable way. Fears over potential nuisances have allowed us to embrace aggressive violence, or the threat of it, against people who have done nothing wrong.

By what right do we claim the power to impose our desires by force over someone who has harmed no one? Do we embrace aggressive violence against peaceful people or not?

Clothing our aggression and desire to control others in the uniform of municipal authority doesn’t hide the fact that such behavior is morally equivalent to a lynch mob.

It’s time to rethink how code enforcement is negatively impacting our property rights.

Instead of assuming that everything a property owner wishes to do requires government permission, let’s make freedom our default setting.

When actual wrongs or nuisances arise, they should be dealt with individually and at the lowest possible level.

Innovation has always paid greater dividends in genuine quality of life than central planning ever will. It also doesn’t have to resort to creating criminals to succeed.

Bryan Hyde is a news commentator and opinion writer in Southern Utah. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.

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Email: bryanh@stgnews.com

Twitter: @youcancallmebry

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2015, all rights reserved.

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49 Comments

  • ForkliftJones June 1, 2015 at 9:17 am

    What a joke. Totalitarian government at work.

  • 42214 June 1, 2015 at 9:25 am

    If you disagree with the law, which a municipal code is, then change it. If you don’t have the political ability to change, then obey it. If you don’t, then suffer the consequences.

    • Neil June 1, 2015 at 6:59 pm

      So if someone isn’t willing and able to challenge the standing power structure on their turf, on their terms, they need to just shut up and obey? Spoken like a true coward that backs down from any challenge. Enjoy your slavery.

      • 42214 June 2, 2015 at 12:06 pm

        Look at the article about the RV park in Virgin. Perfect example of citizens acting to bring about change. Throwing Coward and Slavery around is cheap hyperbole.

      • McMurphy June 5, 2015 at 10:00 am

        You don’t have to shut up and obey, but you have to be willing to accept the consequences. Martin Luther King and Ghandi

  • sagemoon June 1, 2015 at 9:26 am

    Oh, dear. One time my niece and her husband came to town for a few days and stayed in our guest room. We prepared meals for them while they were in town. After they left, I found a $20 bill on their bed. Am I in trouble? Should I have paid taxes? Is St. George City going to cite me? To St. George City: please clarity our local ordinances with more local ordinances. I need to know if having guests stay in my home is legal or not. If they contribute to the grocery bill, is that different than if I receive no compensation? Are my guests allowed to take me out to dinner as compensation? I’m terrified of running afoul of code enforcement. We need more laws to clarify the existing laws. What does the city council do with all their time?

    • 42214 June 1, 2015 at 11:16 am

      Nobody cares untill it impacts them. Live next door to a hoarder, front yard mechanic, illegal boarding house, several barking dogs and you’ll be the first one to call code enforcement. All you’re doing is picking and chosing the laws you like and don’t like and justifying it by marginalizing as petty those you don’t like. Getting tips from relatives might be cheesey to some but it’s not illegal so you’re safe.

      • sagemoon June 1, 2015 at 3:58 pm

        Picking and choosing? No. I truly am sick of most of the laws and ordinances and rules. I’m tired of being treated like a child with no common sense by my government. I’m tired of people shirking their responsibility to their neighbors. Don’t like something? Talk to your neighbor, don’t take the sissy way out and call the cops. I’ve been hearing a lot over the years about how Generation Y is all about entitlement. Where do you think they learned it from? Parents and grandparents who don’t take personal responsibility, problem solve, or who have learned “courtesy.” Many in our society are to blame for the lazy attitude that has created excessive city ordinances and a monstrous Utah State Code.

        • 42214 June 1, 2015 at 7:09 pm

          You start by saying picking and chosing and then say “most” laws. You are the epitomy of what I said. And taking tips from family is Cheesey!

          • sagemoon June 2, 2015 at 8:27 am

            Sure, there are some laws I agree with. I like that murder is against the law.

          • 42214 June 2, 2015 at 9:28 am

            So you good with shoplifting? Sexual assault, drunk driving?

          • sagemoon June 2, 2015 at 9:57 am

            I’m not sure we’re playing in the same ball park anymore, dude. I do have strong personal opinions about criminal violations and victimization. Most, if not all, of the ordinances in city code do not address these types of offenses and a good portion of the Utah Code is dedicated to issues that are neither criminal nor have a victim.

        • mesaman June 1, 2015 at 8:27 pm

          You have my support Sagemoon. When your adversary suggests that you “change” the laws you don’t like, it seems as if it is that simple. Not so! With the exception of the two new council members, it is same as always and getting new members elected, much less encouraged to run, is not a plain and simple process. Guess that’s why the city is facing a class action suit. Does the city have my sympathy? NO! When the code enforcement officer is appointed code enforcement court judge, my crap detector goes off, loudly. I went back and reviewed his appointment and other than the usual whining of the same ones, only one or two comments challenged the selection. These are nuisance laws and should be considered as such.

    • tcrider June 1, 2015 at 12:55 pm

      this is going to have to be reported to the irs, because you made this public information, I’m sorry, its too late now.

  • native born new mexican June 1, 2015 at 10:43 am

    I agree with you Bryan. Besides code enforcement laws there are huge property tax requirements, eminent domain laws, asset forfeiture laws strict C C and R restrictions and if you don’t keep right up with the all the bank demands on the property they will take it from you also. Are you really secure in your property? Is it really even your property? If you can’t keep yourself in a place to live because of all the above then you can try to deal with all the laws that surround a poor person trying to live off the grid on a piece of property as a camper or living on the street in some way. I know people who went to sleep under a bush in the desert and found themselves in jail for ” illegal camping.” When the economy comes crashing down like all the financial experts say it is going to it will be interesting to see what up to now well to do people do when they find themselves as poor people up against all these laws that they thought they were immune from.

    • 42214 June 1, 2015 at 11:58 am

      CC&Rs are private rules, not public law. Terms of bank loans are agreed uponj when you sign on the dotted line. The simple way to avoid problems is to hold up your end of the bargain. Also, it’s not your property till you pay it off. You’re a mixed bag of whining from asset forfeiture laws and property taxes to CC& Rs??

      • native born new mexican June 1, 2015 at 5:17 pm

        42214 your humane, sympathetic heart (Ha Ha) needs to experience dealing with unknown to you shady terms on a bank mortgage. You need to deal with busy body neighbors who complain to the home owner’s association about everything they can about every one they can. You need to find out that the home owner’s association is it’s self corrupt. You need a swat team crashing into your house and destroying every thing they see because some one said you had something illegal. You need the city condemning your house and offering you pennies on the dollar because Walmart wants to build on your property. You need to find out that while your grandson was visiting, he had some weed in his pocket so now the cops want to take your house. You need to find your self on a very fixed income and have the city and county raise, and raise and raise your property taxes. That goes for your city utility rates also. Then when any one of these things goes wrong in your life you need to find yourself homeless and have people calling you a lazy dirty bum who just whines about what has happened in his life. Someone will I am sure be happy to call the cops and have you arrested because you are illegal camping under a bush on a hot day in the desert. I am sure you believe these things will not happen to “special you” because you are you so you won’t give anything I just wrote serious thought. Some way, some how life will get you for that attitude.

        • 42214 June 1, 2015 at 9:29 pm

          You’re such a sniveling whimp! Change your name to Mr Victim. Also, you don;t have a clue in this world what I have experienced but I think it’s safe to say I handled it better than you.

          • native born new mexican June 2, 2015 at 8:05 am

            who said all these things happened to me? I am just pointing out that they can and do happen and yes I am showing some concern for those people that these things happen to. I am my brother’s keeper. So saying these things are not right and they need to be prevented as much as possible by fair and just treatment of others and fair and just laws is whining and playing a victim? I said you were not capable of understanding what I was saying and I was right. You need a good dose of heart medicine. ( not the medical kind)

      • Neil June 1, 2015 at 7:00 pm

        Actually it’s still not yours even after you pay off the mortgage. The County is the default owner and you’re just the tenant. Don’t believe me? Stop paying your property taxes and see what happens.

        • 42214 June 1, 2015 at 10:39 pm

          I paid cash for my house. Now you’re telling me I have to pay property taxes. What a bummer dude.

  • BIG GUY June 1, 2015 at 10:45 am

    Oh please, Bryan. Can you be serious when you say “Fears over potential nuisances have allowed us to embrace aggressive violence, or the threat of it, against people who have done nothing wrong.” Claiming code enforcement is “aggressive violence” is way over the top and causes readers to dismiss your argument.
    .
    Without hardly trying, I can think of dozens of things your next door neighbors might do on their “private property” that are peaceful and don’t infringe your “rights” but that you would find highly objectionable. Thank goodness for city codes and enforcement officers. I’m all for free enterprise, however I recognize that both Airbnb and Uber have created a few well publicized issues for both providers and users. As always, striking a balance is hard to do but certainly needed.

    • Brian June 1, 2015 at 12:18 pm

      Without hardly trying I can easily find examples of heavily armed SWAT teams leaving a swath of destruction for what really boils down to code enforcement: http://reason.com/blog/2013/08/13/texas-town-uses-swat-team-on-behalf-of-c

      Seems like “aggressive violence” to me. Even a small amount of digging leads to many, many more similar examples (including civil asset forfeiture; ie. theft). Remember, particularly for the poor, “code violations” lead to fines, unpaid fines lead to fees and court costs, and ultimately jail (yes, at the barrel of a gun). So claiming code enforcement can lead to “aggressive violence” is anything but over the top, and only causes the uninformed to burrow further into the ground.

      There is a place for codes and enforcement, we’ve crossed that line long, long ago on our sprint to the nanny state.

  • Chris June 1, 2015 at 11:22 am

    “unbeknownst to their neighbors” Obviously, it was “beknownst” to someone in the neighborhood, or the city would not have known. Either Bryan or Stephen Palmer is not telling the whole story.

    • Simone June 2, 2015 at 8:29 pm

      Totally agreed. St George is home to over 50000 people. Its pretty obvious that somebody in that neighborhood Didnt think Bryan’s neighbors “side business” was a good thing for the neighborhood. Perhaps it has something to do with what I’m sure was a steady stream of vacationing foreigners wandering around the neighborhood but what do I know? I’m not his neighbor and I thank god for that too because old Bryan here seems to love posting personal things about his friends and neighbors on a public forum.

      • amagi June 17, 2015 at 2:08 am

        Chris and Simone, Stephen Palmer here. This isn’t true. Because of how our property is situated, it’s actually impossible for anyone to have known what we were doing.

        What the city is doing is finding Airbnb hosts via their online profiles. Contact Jeff Cottam at code enforcement or any other Airbnb host in town and you’ll confirm that this is true.

  • Douglas Berubee June 1, 2015 at 12:04 pm

    Codes are codes, some may be excessive but the bottom line is none of us want our neighbors to do things that bother us constantly or lower our property values. Yes, allowing one best book seller to do this probably isn’t going to hurt anyone, but take away the laws and everyone could do it and I bet many wouldn’t be very discreet about it. The laws are suppose to be for all. Many commenters on here seem to get very upset when it seems politicians don’t follow the laws or the good ole boys seem get a break. That’s because they shouldn’t be allowed to get away with it any more than any of us. Codes and laws level the field for all.

  • tcrider June 1, 2015 at 1:31 pm

    This is happening alot more than people know, And I think it would also be a good idea to post something like a whistle blowers hotline link, and this really needs to be reported bigtime. We purchased a brand new home in a new development in saint george, and we probably would not have, if we knew then what we know now. the development was created by the city of saint george and is not an association. Its seems like no rules are enforced, I know of one guy that keeps purchasing homes and then he rents them out, people are continuously coming and going and now I found out another person rents their home out on the weekends, Its seems to be more of a carnival type atmosphere, except the carnival is more associated with the shady games section of the carnival.
    Maybe we would of been better off buying a home with a association in charge with stricter rules.
    There are rules that have been been implemented by the city for the purposes of safety and sanitation, and alot of these rules have minimum requirements for insurance and bonding.
    Why should a few, greedy, inconsiderate, integrity lacking property owners ruin it for the majority of the full-time residents.
    Another big area that the city could improve on, would be, to have people justify their full-time residency here in saint george. Make them actually show how much time they really live here, that way there would be a paper trail, to match up to the claims.
    The threat of a irs inquisition would have more clout, especially with all the weekend land lords in the area.

    • RealMcCoy June 1, 2015 at 4:25 pm

      A whistle blowers hotline link?
      Tell, Mr. TCRIDER, are your papers in order?
      The SS and Gestapo would like to have a word with you….

    • amagi June 17, 2015 at 2:10 am

      TCRIDER, Stephen Palmer here. I wholeheartedly agree with you that people renting out full homes without living in them is what creates the problems. Any complaint you have ever heard on this issue comes from houses like this.

      Understand, however, that the Airbnb model is a completely different model.

  • voice of reason June 1, 2015 at 2:35 pm

    Brian, your friend is lying to you. Someone noticed it a lodged a complaint with the city. That’s why code enforcement started watching. You are paranoid. I wish you would just go away. I have not listed to KSUB since they hired you back. I tried, but your mindless, ultra conservative drivel is intolerable.

    • Chris June 1, 2015 at 5:27 pm

      You are correct that someone must have lodged a complaint. Code enforcement invariably is based on complaints from citizens. So, despite Bryan’s contention that Palmer’s use of his property was not a problem for the neighbors, someone in the neighborhood had a problem with it.

      • amagi June 17, 2015 at 2:14 am

        Not true, Chris. Ask Jeff Cottam, the code enforcement officer, how he found us. They’re just systematically finding Airbnb hosts via their online profiles. -Stephen Palmer

    • pickin June 1, 2015 at 6:26 pm

      As the self proclaimed “voice of reason” it doesn’t seem that you are being ver reasonable. Point of fact is that the only voice of reason you seem to want to hear is your own.
      True Bryan is very conservative as are many many others in this area; your need to label “ultra conservatives” as such before making your comment only shows in tolerance, not reason.
      I also understand your lack of desire to listen to 590, but your statement of such only further shows more in tolerance…. Everybody has different taste, your favorite food may be different than mine, your taste in music is probably different than mine, it is not reasonable for me to jump on a bully pulpit and proclaim why you are wrong. Because your various tastes are different than what I perceive they “should” be.
      My perspective is that it’s actually cowardly… Since you can offer your brand do Reason from a position of anonymity, while Bryan’s OPINION article doesn’t have the same luxury and his offer was a perspective, not self stated reason.

    • amagi June 17, 2015 at 2:12 am

      Stephen Palmer here. This isn’t true. Call Jeff Cottam at code enforcement and ask him. He’ll tell you he is systematically finding Airbnb hosts through their online profiles. Mayor Pike lives two doors down from me and when I sat down with him about this issue for two hours he had no idea I had been doing this. Please get the facts before calling people liars. It’s not fair or honest and it doesn’t encourage open, honest discussion.

  • 42214 June 1, 2015 at 3:33 pm

    If Mr Palmer is a problem solver on the highest order it should be easy for him to resolve this situation.

  • fubar June 1, 2015 at 4:22 pm

    I guess nobody is required to get the proper zoning or required approvals from the city? Your friend could have avoided this by properly and legally establishing it as a rental. He did not and the city called him on it. I grow tired of the “don’t tread on me” crowd. This position stands until they find a cause they don’t agree with and quickly want that action stopped, tread or no tread.

    • mesaman June 1, 2015 at 8:33 pm

      Give ’em hell Bryan. When you shake the can and out comes the dirt, that will always hit someone in their “integrity” center.

  • anybody home June 1, 2015 at 6:14 pm

    From the official Airbnb website:

    “Before you start hosting, it’s important to know what contracts and rules affect you, such as leases, condo board or co-op rules, HOA rules, or rules established by tenant organizations. Make sure you understand and comply with these rules before listing your space.

    Other laws in your city or state may also affect you, so be sure to review them as well.”

    Clearly, Mr. Problem-solver Palmer decided to dodge what even Airbnb says is necessary in order to operate legally. So it seems Mr. Palmer doesn’t play fair on either side of the equation.

    Mr. Palmer promotes himself as the Entrepreneur Supreme, but every good entrepreneur knows that the first thing you do is check the codes and local laws before going forward. But then, Mr. Palmer also has his “favorite” books listed on the website which is a piece of magical thinking (aka a lie) if there ever was one. This guy is a piece of work.

    Get a grip, Bryan. Find better friends.

    • amagi June 17, 2015 at 2:19 am

      Stephen Palmer here. (I have never in my life posted an anonymous comment on line, for the record.)

      1) I’ve never in my life promoted myself as the “Entrepreneur Supreme.” I have no idea where you’re getting that from.
      2) “every good entrepreneur knows that the first thing you do is check the codes and local laws before going forward.” Every good entrepreneur I know starts with finding a good idea that creates value, for which there is market demand.
      3) I’m thoroughly befuddled by the idea that because I list my favorite books on my website I’m a liar.

      These types of de-humanizing comments do nothing to further productive, honest, open, fair, respectful discussion. You have no idea who I am and you’re making all kinds of assumptions — all without even posting your name. I’m happy to meet with anyone in person who paints me in such a light without knowing me at all. I’m confused as to why you would do this. What do you gain by doing this?

  • izzymuse June 1, 2015 at 10:39 pm

    Government agenda 1a: Arrest every citizen, put them in concentration camps, and reinstate slavery for the 99%! (FYI for the idiots: I’m writing in deep sarcasm satire!) The New World Order has begun!!! The elitists are coming!
    But seriously, I’m for anarchy. Live and let live. Lighten up Southern Utah. 😀

  • mousynot June 2, 2015 at 8:40 am

    If your friend is making as much money as you say and renting it out for the amount you say, then clearly there are visitors there at least 80% of the time. I find it hard to believe none of his neighbors knew about it. I agree with those who have upheld the code. Register your rental, obey the rules and you have no problem. I would have a problem if my neighbor had strangers coming and going every night. It seems your friendship has clouded your judgement.

    • amagi June 17, 2015 at 2:21 am

      Stephen Palmer here. You’re making assumptions without having the facts. Because of how my property is situated, it’s impossible for any of my neighbors to know what I’m doing. Ask Jeff Cottam, the code enforcement officer, how he is finding Airbnb hosts and he will tell you that he just finds their online profiles. This is happening across the board to all Airbnb hosts.

  • NotSoFast June 2, 2015 at 4:29 pm

    ALERT!
    The little brat neighbor kids are selling their sour tasting lemonade on their driveway again. That’s a NO NO! What’s St. George’s code enforcement hotline telephone number?
    An other example: An other neighbor has a motorcycle and a fairly new Lexus in his drive with For Sale signs on them. HOW DARE THEY!
    Yet another example: During election season, It seems like most neighbors have those tasteless, ‘ELECT Good Old Boy Joe’ to another term for councilman in their front grass.
    Bottom line? It’s all about the money and what have you done for me lately?

  • stgeorgerocks June 3, 2015 at 10:46 am

    Bryan has a very skewed perception of what character is. He says “Palmer is one of the most solid examples of personal character I’ve ever met.”

    Did Mr Palmer have $46,000 worth of liens on his home in Santa Clara in 2007 that weren’t paid for 5 months until he sold his home? If that really happened, I wonder if those contractors were able to stay in business?

    Quit playing the victim and have some integrity.

    Quit bashing the city so much. It is not only the city ordinance that is being broken, but 95% of CC&Rs disallow vacation rentals as well. CC&Rs have been around for decades, this isn’t something new. It’s what keeps your neighbor from putting a trailer on a lot next to your single family home. Can you imagine our city without ordinances? If you don’t like them, move to Mexico. Or move to California and you will really know how invasive the City and State are….you have no idea.

    The other question to Mr Palmer is, have you been paying 11.6% transient tax to the State just like a hotel or B&B would? If not, you are exposing yourself by having these silly articles written disclosing your income. Be prepared to receive a letter from the state with a bill for 11.5% of $12,000 X the number of years you have been doing this. They are currently sending letters out as we speak. You’re really asking for problems by playing the victim.

    This is not a victim less crime. There are B&Bs, hotels, condos zoned for nightly rentals and even a handful of vacation rental homes that are approved for vacation rentals. There are areas that are zoned for this that are closer to multi-family or commercial real estate. Imagine our city without zoning ordinances. It would be similar to a 3rd world country. People have paid premiums on the land for this type of zoning, they pay transient tax, and they pay for business licenses, etc. There are holidays and events when the town is full, but in the low season, they are fighting for income. Not only that, if you are not charging transient taxes to the renters, you are undercutting the businesses and stealing their income. These companies abide by certain conditions and pay fees which you obviously don’t do.

    • 42214 June 3, 2015 at 7:08 pm

      That was an articulate, awesome comment. You nailed it

    • BIG GUY June 4, 2015 at 5:12 am

      Amen. Well said.

    • CaliGirl June 17, 2015 at 7:42 am

      Maybe this “man of character” should live within his means and not rely on the extra income that the unused space in his home generates.

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