As the saying goes, even a blind hen finds corn. Georgia House Bill 523 is just that bit of legislative corn. Typically it is large, distant governing bodies (federal and/or state) that impose upon their subsidiaries egregious violations of individual liberty. These large bodies commonly compel all to march in lock step with their directives irrespective of the preferences of the smaller communities and individuals. But as Yoda says, “size matters not.” Small governing bodies may be just as injurious to individual rights as large bodies. House Bill 523 is trying to right the wrongs that numerous local, city, and county governments have inflicted on their citizens. In short, House Bill 523 would remove the legal authority for such communities to restrict the property rights of those who wish to engage in “short term” rentals (under 30 days) of their homes. HB 523 has been dubbed the “AirBnB” bill because it is attempting to restore the rights of homeowners to use their property as they see fit with respect to these rentals. Many local communities currently impose either outright bans on such short-term rentals or onerous restrictions (such as being forced to plead one’s case in front of a board of commissioners – basically begging to be permitted to use their own property). This bill would do away with these regulations and render the local governing bodies impotent in this domain.
The indignant outcries from the local communities’ governing leaders (e.g. Morgan County which encompasses a wide swath of lake homes and charming antebellum abodes – see this article (behind paywall)) concerning this bill is deafening in its hypocrisy. Why this is a blatant violation of THEIR right to violate the rights of those that live in their community! This ranks right up there with the indignation of slave owners who were forced to free their slaves after the Civil War – “I can’t believe what is being done to me!” These are the same people that will put their hand over their heart and recite the pledge of allegiance while fondly reflecting on the phrase “liberty and justice for all” and then with a straight face tell a homeowner, “no, sorry, we have the right to tell you how you may or may not use YOUR property.” Yep, nothing illustrates pursuit of happiness better than other people imposing their will on you.
The objections to HB 523 run the usual gamut of crony-capitalism, protectionism, and nods toward the protection of existing homeowners. Unsurprisingly existing bed and breakfasts and local hoteliers oppose this bill since AirBnB and similar real estate sharing activities threaten their business. But it is not the domain of government to protect the economic interests of businesses by restricting competition – regardless of how rampant this behavior may otherwise be across this country (from taxi medallions, to Certificate of Need laws, to food truck regulations and similar “turf” zoning). The other concern raised is typical fear-mongering; paint a worst case scenario to the constituents and then step in and offer a solution to prevent said scenario, “well, this might happen, so let’s ban it.” But of course existing laws prohibiting public nuisance or excessive noise already cover the scenarios they outline; there is no need for additional restrictive controls.
In fact, this bill is so astutely crafted that it carves out an exception for existing private protective covenants that govern short-term rentals. Why? Because protective covenants are voluntary contracts: one may opt in or out by buying or not buying property governed by them. But this is not so with ordinances and regulations, they come and go and change with the prevailing political winds so it is impossible to ever be sure what your property rights will be in one, five or ten years. Perhaps HB 523 will change just a bit of that.