Home sharing should never be a crime in Maine
Maine’s Joint Standing Committee on State and Local Government today is holding a public hearing on LD 209, a bill that would prohibit municipalities from banning short-term rentals within their communities.
Limiting or restricting the use of short-term rentals, unless for public health and safety concerns, is unnecessary. This kind of regulation suppresses the entrepreneurial spirit of individuals who want to generate income by sharing their property. Prohibitions on short-term rentals unfairly restrict individuals and families who share their homes responsibly, and Maine should pursue statewide protections for those who do.
Municipal bans on short-term rentals chip away at the private property rights of individuals. As long as someone is using their property in a safe and responsible manner, government should not dictate what individuals can or cannot do with it. Enacting prohibitions on short-term rentals and regulating them outside of the scope of health and safety is a slippery slope that results in the diminishment of private property rights.
To be clear, the bill does not prevent communities from reasonably regulating short-term rentals; it simply states that municipalities cannot prohibit their operation. LD 209 does not undermine local authority and control. Cities and towns can still regulate noise and crime. But for many municipalities, existing rules already do this by targeting specific nuisance behaviors, instead of prohibiting people from using their own property in responsible ways. As Christina Sandefur, executive vice president of the Goldwater Institute wrote in a 2017 op-ed, “cities do not forbid all backyard barbeques just because some might get noisy – they enforce reasonable restrictions on noise, while respecting people’s rights to use their property.”
And while municipal governments are free to regulate noise and nuisance behaviors, they should keep in mind that home sharing sites and companies are cooperating with local governments and have developed mechanisms for neighbors of short-term rental properties to report annoyances through platform-specific tools.
For example, if a complaint is recorded with Airbnb, they reach out to the host so the issue can be addressed. If the host ignores complaints, they can be banned from using Airbnb as a platform for renting out their property. The private sector has and is continuing to create solutions to these problems without hindering entrepreneurship, and without the directive from government.
When Arizona passed protections for short-term rental properties, individuals were free to use their homes to fulfill their entrepreneurial dreams. Glenn Odegard bought an old, vacant, and structurally unsound house in Jerome, Arizona, and with his skills in carpentry, he restored the house to create a historical experience for folks who wanted to visit.
In 2015, Jerome prohibited short-term vacation rentals, which would have stopped Mr. Odegard from fulfilling his dream. Homeowners who did not comply with the rules were subject to $300 in fines and 90 days in jail for each day they disobeyed the town’s ordinance and rented their home to short-term tenants. Through Arizona’s intervention, a state law was passed to stop prohibitions on short-term rentals, encouraging folks like Mr. Odegard to pursue their aspirations.
Some Mainers have already been subjected to prohibitions on short-term rentals through ordinances that use zoning and building classifications to ban the operation of certain types of short-term rentals in specific areas of a city.
Instead of pursuing outright bans that create more problems than they solve, Maine should pass LD 209 to continue allowing municipalities to regulate in ways that protect public health and safety while protecting the property rights of homeowners who want to use their property in a responsible manner.