Airbnb Proposal Stands On False Premise; Let Gig City Be An Open City

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

A City Council proposal to regulate home sharing networks offers false choices and pretends that city government has authority to regulate what private people do in their own houses.

The council will vote June 13 on a proposal by council member Chip Henderson to set up a special district in which residents may, without rezoning, use their houses commercially through sharing networks such as Airbnb.

The phony claim of authority arises from the use of a piece of paper. That piece of paper is a map of the city showing all its districts and neighborhoods.

The map is a form of propaganda. Mapmakers often serve the interests of controlling parties in capitals of ambitious nation-states who survey neighbors and stir concern about external threat and enemies. The map being used by council members is from the regional planning agency, implying that every area of the city, and all its human activity occurring within private dwellings, is subject to the printer of that map and those who gaze upon its traces with an eye to using municipal authority.

In the false choice presented, council members may elect to have parts or all of their respective areas within the district, or outside of the special district. Council members, in other words, decide whether residents in their districts may use Airbnb subject to regulation, or participate in Airbnb only through rezoning.

The City Council should respect private property rights and keep its hands off the private rental market, which in 2016 is estimated to have created $2.5 million in cash flow for private homeowners.

Zoning and external controls upon private property are unconstitutional, and are ripe for legal challenge to overturn the entire system. Chattanoogans and Hamilton Countians have tolerated zoning for decades without legal challenge.

Councilman Henderson says 500 rental houses in the city exist, but only 25 of them sit in the R-4 zones that theoretically allow them. A petition for rezoning a single lot in a residential area creates opposition, because neighbors fear that the house could be torn down and converted into a store, gas station, condo or office building.

Zoning controls are an offense against innocent and harmless use of private property and private dwellings. Because the city has gone so far as to create a zoning regime, its legislators on the council feel obliged to do something about Airbnb, a Web network that seems to void existing legal categories.

But the city should remain a free market haven, and should make a bold and noisy showing that it has a hands-off perspective on Airbnb and the sharing economy.

For the city to try to control the sharing economy, it declares is proprietary interest in the private property and private doings of private men and women in their own personal residences. It should slap cold water on its face, brace itself, and keep its hands out of the people’s business.

The Gig City with its Internet boulevards and its national reputation should act consistently with its pretensions of being an advanced and forward-looking city.

It should leave alone Airbnb investors, families and homeowners — and their many out-of-town guests — and declare itself an open city.

David Tulis

— David Tulis hosts a talk show 9-11 a.m. weekday mornings at Noogaradio 1240 AM 92.7 FM, covering local economy and free markets in Chattanooga and beyond.

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