Perspectives: How state law can secure a homeowner’s rights from city mischief

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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.

Read more: Bill to allow homeowners short-term rentals advances.

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.

Email: bryanh@stgnews.com

Twitter: @youcancallmebry

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2017, all rights reserved.

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5 Comments

  • tcrider February 20, 2017 at 8:33 am

    excellent article Bryan,

    All the city has to do is require home owners to a legal renters insurance liability and I bet
    there would be very few people renting their homes out, what I mean by legal, is the same
    standards that the hotels industry of Saint George and surround cities require of running
    a rental property, if the city of Saint George can maintain this standard, you will see the
    surrounding cities also require it.
    The people that want to rent out their homes, especially the ones that do not live in or near
    them are super inconsiderate to their neighbors and are not a real part of their communities,
    there is one specific bottom feeding piece of dung developer in Sun Valley that does not live
    in the region and likes to rent out multiple homes without the required renters liability and
    absolutely no consideration for the full time residence that live around them.

    • mesaman February 20, 2017 at 9:29 pm

      Excellent point. I live in an area of “old” St George that is gradually becoming a residential area for college students. Homeowners love their money, but students offer nothing of value these neighborhoods our forfeiture of quiet and comfortable surroundings. We have a totally different view of this situation. I haven’t agreed with Mayor Pike very much but I agree with him that neighborhoods should remain neighborly and quiet. There are areas already zoned for short term occupancy but owners are aware of that before the buy and they can expect the intrusions caused by visitors of this nature.

  • Not_So_Much February 20, 2017 at 8:41 am

    Mr Hyde I completely disagree with you on this issue. I moved to the neighborhood I did because not only was it well kept, it was very peaceful and without any enforcement of a little known HOA. I don’t want the possibility of neighbors needing extra money who will start these short term rentals next to me. What’s to stop an owner from going out of town while along anyone with enough funds to take over for their ow enjoyment. If a future is zoned for such use then, that would be up to the local officials to set the guidelines there. This really is a “Not in my backyard” issue in which I agree with Mayor Pike. I live in a residential area, not a commercial zone.

  • KarenS February 20, 2017 at 1:53 pm

    I find it amusing that people like Mr. Hyde feel like local control is best and then come up with multiple excuses as to why the Utah Legislature knows what is best for all of the citizens of Utah. The current discussion of short term rentals is yet another example of this problem. Twisting the notion that to fully enjoy one’s property, owners should be allowed to rent parts of their houses to various and sundry people makes no sense. Cities are best equipped to know what kind of neighborhoods they want to support.

    Additionally, if the legislature does pass the bill, then what kind of enforcement would there be so that the “owner-occupied” requirement is met. Simple answer – none. It would open up all kinds of problems for neighborhoods. There are neighborhoods now in St. George that have been specifically built for short-term rentals with on-site managers. We should let those neighborhoods and the local hotels fill the need.

  • utahdiablo February 20, 2017 at 8:46 pm

    all the renters in our community don’t give a …* about the noise they create or care of the property….nope, don’t want them, they have no skin in the game….get a hotel
    Ed. ellipsis: …*

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