New York City is the latest to square off against its own people over how people use their own homes and apartments. The New York City Council is drafting legislation that would require those who participate in the booming short-term rental industry to register their addresses, which is surely a harbinger of further regulations to come.
San Francisco — the city where Airbnb was born — has passed a similar ordinance, while Los Angeles is considering more extreme steps, such as limiting how many nights a home can be rented per year.
The goal in New York is the same: to limit and regulate what people do in their own homes.
When Austin attempted to do this, I filed suit on behalf of short-term rental owners and guests. Although slightly different, the Austin City Council based its restrictions on non-existent nuisance complaints.
New Yorkers are resourceful; living in one of the most expensive cities in the world, with a housing shortage of near-legendary proportions. To do so, residents work hard and find creative ways to make ends meet.
That’s why short-term rentals are nothing new in New York City — or anywhere else, for that matter. They’ve always existed. What has changed is the internet — apps such as Airbnb which make it easier for would-be renters to find listings. But the fundamental principle is the same: economic liberty.
So why are some people — and New York City politicians — so against short-term rentals?
Some see it as a threat to the hotel industry, and claim that Airbnb provides an alternative to hotels without having to comply with the same regulations. They’re calling for a “fair playing field.”
But that’s not an argument against short-term rentals; instead, it’s an argument for reducing regulations on hotels. By all means, let’s have a fair playing field — but by making everyone more economically free, not less.
That’s the argument the taxi industry used when it faced a similar disruption brought about by technology, in the form of Uber and Lyft and other ride-booking apps. But just as the taxi industry has survived, hotels in New York City will survive short-term rentals. If anything, competition will make all options better.
According to the New York City Department of City Planning’s most recent analysis, “New York City’s robust visitor numbers have led to a commensurate strong demand for hotel rooms, as reflected by annual average occupancy rates that are among the highest of any urban market in the United States.”
Some short-term rental opponents object to people using their homes for a “commercial” purpose (even though commercial use is not merely the exchange of money). But where do we draw the line, then? That’s a very slippery slope.
Do we regulate the little old lady down the hall, who cares for a neighbor’s kids after school? Do we crack down on freelance writers who work from their kitchen tables? What you do in your home is your business — even if it is your business.
The city of Austin’s ordinance, as an example, is clearly unconstitutional. Guests in short-term rentals cannot participate in outdoor “assemblies” of more than six people between the hours of 7:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m., or in any “assembly” at all between 10:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m.
What is an “assembly”? According to the city, it includes “group activities other than sleeping.” Under that framework, short-term rental guests cannot hold backyard birthday parties, summer barbeques, or games of pickup basketball without risking thousands of dollars in fines.
And how would those rules be enforced? Presumably by on-site inspections — otherwise known as warrantless searches.
New York City isn’t pushing similar rules just yet. But even its demand that Airbnb turn over the list of registered New York City short-term rental operators is unsettling.
A similar requirement in San Francisco led to a 50% drop in Airbnb listings, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
And registration is almost always a harbinger of further regulations to come.
As reported last week, NYC’s proposed bill “could sound a death knell for online home-sharing services in the Big Apple.”
Let’s not pretend it’s anything but what it is: an intrusion by the government into the lives of everyday New Yorkers.