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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- ON Kilter: If enforcement tactics were unconstitutional, what then for the enforcers? – Opinion – St. George – October 2013
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