Since the early 1800’s gold mining era in California, property rights have been a focus of debate. Today, a new war is being fought in city council chambers and halls across the state. The battle for homeowners to use their homes as bed and breakfast locations through services like Airbnb and VRBO is reaching an all-time high.
There are two arguments in this debate, both which deserve some merit and credibility. Homeowners are arguing that it is their right to conduct business out of their home and use their land as a short term rental because it is their property. City governments and other homeowners say the short-term rental system could snowball into other services. One fear is that with services like Airbnb, others begin to sprout up like dog-vacays, which turns homes into kennels for pet sitters. The additional fear is that short-term lodging through online services is unregulated, and tax-free. City and county governments are reacting to the massive influx of short-term lodging businesses with proactive code enforcement and rental moratoriums. In contrast, homeowners are responding to the codes with support groups and associations for short term rental owners.
In a 2014 article by Harry Bradford with the Huffington Post, several cases of housing horror are seen. While Airbnb claimed that these are isolated incidences, the truth is cities across the state are facing similar issues on a daily basis. Cities like Irvine, Anaheim, Laguna Beach, and even Los Angeles, are responding to these challenges in their own ways. While Airbnb and similar free-market services may be a Libertarian’s dream, they come with their own consequences. Many times, homeowners are not at home while the tenants are staying, making accountability difficult. Community members fear that the expansion of short-term rentals can hurt what makes a neighborhood a neighborhood. Imagine living in a home where you don’t even know your neighbor because the home is a constant short term rental. Cases of vandalism, house fires, and even death can arise when homes become overnight quasi-hotels. In Zak Stone’s medium account of his father’s death at an Airbnb residence, the picture is clear. With no government regulation, communities risk losing their identity, public safety is endangered, and legitimate businesses like hotels are destroyed. Californians will have to find a compromise where home sharing can exist in moderation, and cities can retain their neighborhoods.