OPINION – The “Short-term Rental Amendments” bill working its way through the Legislature passed out of committee to the House floor last week, bringing cheers from property owners who may wish to rent a portion of their homes and jeers from some civic leaders whose wings may be getting clipped.
The bill, designated as 2017 HB 253, looks to affirm the right of private property owners to accommodate short-term renters without interference from their municipalities. It would only affect those homeowners who live on-site and whose rentals are for less than 30 days.
Passage out of committee means the proposed short-term rental amendments will now have a chance to be debated by the Legislature.
At this point, victory is not a sure thing.
The past few weeks have been both fascinating and revealing tracking the progress of the bill.
It’s fascinating that such a bill would even be necessary to keep homeowners out of legal troubles with their municipalities. And it’s revealing in terms of the amount of spin being generated by those cities that wish to exert control.
St. George city leaders who spoke against the bill included Mayor Jon Pike, who argued that such decision-making should remain at the local level. His views were echoed by Cameron Diehl from the Utah League of Cities and Towns.
Despite attempts to shift the narrative to how best to regulate short-term rentals or whether this is a matter for local or state decision-making, the real issue here is safeguarding the rights of all property owners.
In most cases, problems are best solved as close to the people as possible. However, this is a case where the state is exerting its authority to rein in abuse of private property rights that is taking place at the local level.
Municipalities derive their legitimate authority from the state. Here, the state would be stepping in to limit the abuse of power by recognizing the natural right to peacefully use one’s private property as one wishes.
As it stands, a homeowner who chooses to rent out a portion of his or her home without the official blessing – and attendant fees – mandated by their town or city can face serious legal consequences. These can include escalating coercion in the form of fines, liens and being charged with a class B misdemeanor.
Eventually, men with guns and badges will be dispatched to force the homeowner into compliance, even when there is absolutely no evidence that any harm whatsoever has occurred.
To be fair, local elected leaders are typically not the driving force for such overbearing regulation. Instead, municipalities are being spurred on by neighborhood busybodies who encourage them to overstep the bounds of proper government.
Homeowners like Stephen and Karina Palmer of St. George, who have unsuccessfully sought redress from their local government, have been forced to seek it through a higher authority.
The breakdown on the part of many municipal leaders and citizens stems from a lack of comprehension as to the proper role of local government. They’ve bought into the ideology of statism, which holds that everything not under government control is, by definition, out of control.
Unfortunately, it’s a recipe for mischief on the part of whomever feels the most entitled to use force to punish their neighbors over petty disagreements.
The only fair and objective measure by which to distinguish between authentic and imaginary offenses is when someone can show a measurable harm has actually been done to them or their property.
This would cover verifiable acts of theft, vandalism, violation of noise or trash ordinances and other nuisances through laws that are already on the books. Most importantly, it would hold responsible only those who commit an offense and leave everyone else alone.
That’s how a free society operates.
Where there is a verifiable problem, there is ample policy to ensure justice is done. Where there is no verifiable problem, the default setting of government should be leaving people alone to enjoy their private property.
Protective law seeks to administer justice after an injury occurs and only applies to the parties involved.
Preventive law seeks to prevent injury by taking away freedom from everyone “just in case” someone injures another. It has nothing to do with justice.
For there to be genuine freedom, there will always be risks. Those risks are still there where preventive laws have been enacted too.
We simply get the added bonus of losing a measure of freedom.
Concerns over whether someone is voluntarily transacting commerce with a guest in their home are not sufficient reason to invoke government force either.
Blanket approaches that threaten to punish everyone preemptively out of fears of what might happen are simply a form of tyranny with a local flavor.
If we wish to enjoy our own property rights, we must respect those of our neighbors. Even when we disagree with how they choose to use them.
Bryan Hyde is an opinion columnist specializing in current events viewed through the lens of common sense. The opinions stated in this article are his and not representative of St. George News.
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