SANDEFUR, TIEDEMANN: Another California Town Is Cracking Down On Airbnb

Pacific Grove Chamber of Commerce

Christina Sandefur Goldwater Institute
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With July now upon us, many Americans are embarking on summer vacations. But one California town is seeking to limit home-sharing services like Airbnb and HomeAway, making it more difficult for travelers to have the summer vacation of their dreams.

Thanks to its picturesque location on California’s central coast, Pacific Grove is a destination for visitors wanting a beach vacation, many of whom choose to stay in short-term vacation rentals. But last year, Pacific Grove imposed a 15 percent density rule, limiting the number of homes that can be used for home-sharing. The city decided to hold a lottery — a totally random drawing — to determine which homeowners would lose the right to rent their property to overnight guests.

Every property owner has the right to decide whether or not to let someone stay in his or her home. Throughout America’s history, property owners have let people stay in their homes, rather than in hotels, sometimes in exchange for money or doing chores. Today, the practice has become easier than ever thanks to the advent of home-sharing services. But by enacting unfair regulations on home-sharing, Pacific Grove ended up stripping this essential property right from many home-sharers — responsible homeowners who had never received any complaints about their rentals (say, about noise or traffic). Meanwhile, home-sharers who had received complaints were able to keep their right to rent.

Homeowners like Sue and Bill Hobbs were robbed of their ability to help travelers make vacation memories. Sue and Bill are the owners of “Sea Dance,” a beachside home in Pacific Grove, and for several years now, they have been sharing Sea Dance as a short-term vacation rental to provide some income. Not only has the arrangement been good for them, but it’s been good for visitors as well: Vacation rentals near the beach can be financially out of reach for many, but Sea Dance has helped many families have great vacations they otherwise might not have been able to afford.

Pacific Grove’s anti-home-sharing actions violate the law — and the rights of home-sharers like the Hobbses — in two ways. First, according to the California Coastal Act, the Commission has to approve any land use regulation that affects the public’s right to use or access the coast — and that includes any regulation on home-sharing. However, Pacific Grove didn’t obtain that permission, so the city is in violation of the act. (It’s worth noting that the commission — which tends to embrace regulation — has discouraged overregulation of home-sharing because the practice provide affordable coastal access.)

And second, Pacific Grove’s choice to use a bingo-style lottery denied home-sharers their constitutional right to fair treatment under the law. This approach arbitrarily took away homeowners’ right to rent their home without giving them any sort of legal proceeding (not to mention that they had done nothing wrong). Furthermore, Pacific Grove bans home-sharing in specific areas of the city, which also violates due process of law — even the city’s own staff admits that such a ban is an unfair way to handle possible nuisances arising from home-sharing.

In late June, Sue and Bill were in a Monterey, California, court to challenge the city’s violations of their rights. The result was a mixed one: While the judge agreed that Pacific Grove violated the Coastal Act and must submit its ordinance to the Coastal Commission for approval, she rejected the due process arguments, which will allow the home-sharing ban to continue in certain areas of the city.

Pacific Grove isn’t the only place cracking down on the right of home-sharing. From coast to coast, stories of cities limiting this property right — via sky-high fines, outright bans, or other methods — are all too common. Critics of home-sharing say the practice changes the character of communities, opening them up to outside visitors who make too much noise or create traffic problems. But the fact is, cities and towns already have the tools to combat these problems: Noise and traffic ordinances, when properly enforced, deal with these problems without the need to enact further regulations that punish responsible homeowners.

Local governments like Pacific Grove’s shouldn’t make it harder for Americans to take a little vacation. Protecting home-sharing will help more Americans have their day at the beach.

Christina Sandefur is the executive vice president and Jennifer Tiedemann is the deputy director of communications at the Goldwater Institute. Sandefur represents Sue and Bill Hobbs in the Pacific Grove lawsuit, which they are in the process of appealing.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.