The Internet is enabling more and more Americans to leverage their biggest asset, their home, by renting rooms to travelers. So why are local governments trying to shut them down?
Laws against short-term rentals have also long existed in some of the tonier cities in Florida, such as Boca Raton and Del Ray Beach. But similar restrictions have recently spread to other cities in the state, thanks, ironically, to a new state law intended to help individual homeowners take advantage of the Internet-empowered vacation rental market. The law set a date after which municipalities could no longer pass ordinances against short-term rentals. Predictably, a number of cities hurriedly pushed through such ordinances in order to beat the deadline.
Crackdowns against vacation rentals are also happening in other cities across the United States, in part for fiscal reasons: municipalities need the money. Cities like Palm Desert, California, and resort communities in Colorado have recently required short-term rental owners to buy permits and pay taxes, as well as abide by parking, trash, noise, and other ordinances. But these restrictions don’t seem unreasonable. The permits aren’t prohibitively expensive (a few hundred dollars), the taxes aren’t unfair, and unruly guests can legitimately upset neighbors.
Indeed, in a rare instance of an industry asking for more regulation and taxes, a group representing New York’s besieged short-term rental owners is backing a proposed state law that would similarly define, regulate, certify, and tax legitimate vacation rental apartments. In return for legitimacy and freedom from harassment and fines, the group, the Short Term Rental and Hospitality Association (STRAHA), says its members would gladly pay the same occupancy tax that regular hotels pay.
“License us and provide a way for visitors from Europe, South America, and Asia to check legitimate establishments, so that overseas visitors won’t get scammed by criminals pretending to offer accommodations,” said a STRAHA representative. “The scam artists would be driven out and safe vacation apartment rentals would be allowed to prosper.”
The danger of any ordinance restricting commerce is that it will wind up protecting incumbent interests at the expense of new entrants into the market. So even the more reasonable-sounding laws bear watching. But if done right, these lighter rules could ensure that necessary taxes are paid, legitimate neighborhood concerns are respected, and average citizens are free to make use of an untapped, valuable asset: their own homes.
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