Barry Fagin

If you have to impoverish your neighbor and threaten them with jail to keep the character of your neighborhood, is that character really worth keeping?

That’s the question opponents of short-term rentals should be asking themselves.

Firms such as Airbnb and VRBO have multibillion dollar valuations because millions of people use their services to make their lives better. That kind of economic change disrupts existing ways of doing things. That’s good. Change is never easy, but it’s essential to human progress.

Opponents of change come from all over. Hotels, of course, don’t like it when people rent their houses to travelers because they’re worried it will cut into their business. Where possible, they’ll use their political clout to regulate short-term rentals out of existence, as they are presently doing in New York City. Where that’s not possible, they’ll demand short-term rentals be taxed at higher rates in the name of “fairness”. Colorado Springs and other towns throughout Colorado are facing this kind of pressure.

Of course, there are all sorts of ways to understand “fairness”. Rather than tax short-term rentals at the same (much higher) rate as hotels, both could be taxed at lower rates. Alternatively, short-term rentals could be taxed at a higher rate than residential properties but lower than hotels, because they don’t place the same burden on public services. Perhaps that’s a better definition of “fair.”

Still another approach would be to recognize that the distinction between “commercial” and “residential” is going to be increasingly meaningless in the age of Airbnb, just like the distinction between “private” and “business” vehicles doesn’t mean much in the age of Uber and Lyft. Maybe the whole idea of taxing property based solely on its value and use needs to be rethought.

Opposition to the changes brought by short-term rentals doesn’t just come from existing businesses who’d rather lobby than compete. It also has a grassroots component, because it affects “neighborhood character”.

The basic idea here is that short-term rentals mean an influx of strangers, parking problems, and in general a different arrangement from traditional single-family homes populated by people you know well and see every day.

If you don’t want short-term rentals in your neighborhood, can I ask just how neighborly it is to tell your neighbors they can’t rent out their property? That you can’t bear to look at strange people in strange cars? That you would rather your neighbor be made poorer and threatened with jail than see them make their home available to others who’d like to visit your town?

If you’re worried about property values, isn’t it at least possible that homes in a neighborhood friendly to short-term rentals would actually be more valuable, because of the possibilities that opens up for homeowners?

Have you talked to people from out of town who chose to visit your neighborhood? I’ve used Airbnb to meet wonderful and interesting people from America and all over the world. That’s why I believe equally in welcoming people to America for a lifetime, and to my neighborhood for a few days. Ultimately, I just don’t see much difference.

Finally, if you don’t want short-term rentals in your neighborhood, ask yourself this: Will your children feel the same way you do when they’ve got homes of their own? Growing up in a world of Uber and Airbnb, they’ll be using these companies all their lives, along with other agents of economic change we can’t yet imagine.

Given the ubiquitousness of the sharing economy in your kids’ future, what are the chances they’ll be opposed to living next door to a short-term rental when they’re your age? If you think the odds are small, maybe you should rethink why short-term rentals make you nervous. Maybe it’s just because you haven’t grown up with them.

Nothing involving humans is perfect. That said, short-term rental clients have every reason to respect the neighborhoods they choose to visit, just as property renters have every incentive to keep up their property and have good relations with neighbors. Those impulses bring people together. Single-family homes where the faces never change is one kind of community. But it’s not the only one. Nor should it be.

Barry Fagin is senior fellow at the Independence Institute in Denver. His views are his alone. Readers can write Fagin at barry@faginfamily.net.

Barry Fagin is Senior Fellow at the Independence Institute in Denver. His views are his alone. Readers can write Dr. Fagin at barry@faginfamily.net.

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