Other Opinions

Cities should be wary of cracking down on homesharing

Shadrack White
Shadrack White

The digital age has given working people a new power: the ability to use their own property to make money. For instance, you no longer have to be a big taxi company to make money giving rides to others. You can become an Uber driver and use your own car to boost your income. You no longer have to be a giant hotel to benefit from tourism. You can rent out your home on websites like AirBNB. This is called homesharing.

In this way, technology has made our economy fairer. Big corporations aren’t the only ones who are allowed to make money. You have the right to make money with your property just like big hotel companies have a right to make money with their property. It’s not much different from using your own pool to make money through swimming lessons or your own piano to give piano lessons, except now you can capture some of the wealth flowing into your community from Coast tourism.

More money like that can be a difference-maker for families. Everyone who owns a home or car can become a middle-class entrepreneur. You can use that money to spend on nights out with family, pay down your mortgage, or even save up to start your own business.

Technologies like these are good for consumers, too. More competition in the market for hotel rooms means cheaper options for staying here and more tourists. Win, win, win.

So why, then, did reports of cracking down on homesharing emerge a few months ago? In an article about the allegedly “negative economic impact” of homesharing, the Mississippi Business Journal reported that Bay St. Louis was considering “putting an ordinance in place for vacation rentals.”

It sounds like cities want to make it more difficult for homeowners to reap the benefits of their own home. It also sounds like music to the ears of existing hotels.

Examples of big businesses using government to protect them from competition are everywhere. Wall Street banks lobby Congress to write rules that make it hard to start small banks in Middle America. Giant healthcare companies do the same. Now some big hoteliers want government protection, too.

The business with the best lobbyist—instead of the business with the best business plan—seems to win. And often, the business with the best lobbyist is a giant located out of state. That sucking sound you hear is the government funneling money away from our families and state.

Cities should be wary of writing rules that make it hard for residents to homeshare. When other cities around the country have tried this, residents have not taken it lying down. Nashville imposed onerous rules on the use of AirBNB, so a middle class Nashville couple took the city to court. The couple beat Nashville at trial and forced the city to change its regulations.

Lawsuits like that are to be expected. The government shouldn’t stop you from making an honest dollar. It also shouldn’t tell you that you cannot advertise your home, as that would be a First Amendment violation.

Just like Tennessee, Mississippi’s Supreme Court has defended our right to make money for ourselves. As the Court said in Chunn v. State in 2015, “A person's God-given, constitutional liberty to engage in a profession should not so easily be extinguished by the government.” That freedom to make money at a profession, free from government interference, applies to the freedom to make money from your own property, too.

Some have expressed concerns about whether homesharing is safe. AirBNB addresses this by allowing users to rate and comment on their experiences when renting. My wife and I have used AirBNB for several vacations, and it’s easy to discern the safest options.

For those concerned about parties in their neighborhoods if rooms are rented out, nothing stops a town from regulating public disturbances. But don’t restrict homesharing altogether. Just because some backyard football watching parties get out of hand on the weekend doesn’t mean we ban football watching.

In short, there are ways to address any issues with homesharing, but think twice before you make it too hard. Your town could end up in expensive litigation.

We have to unrig our economy. Government has often made life harder for normal working people and easier for giant corporations to stay giant. Towns should put their own residents first. Keep the money here, in Mississippi and on the Coast, and allow people to make money with their own homes.

Shadrack White is the Director of the Mississippi Justice Institute, a watchdog organization that represents Mississippians against the government in court.