How do you know when government is encroaching too far on the rights of private citizens? One sure way to tell is when the administrative state creates dubiously named departments and bureaucracies designed to do little more than busybody work, often in the name of protecting favored entities.
Take, for example, the Vacation Rental Enforcement Task Force in Santa Monica, Calif.
As reported by Hailey Branson-Potts of the Los Angeles Times, the Santa Monica City Council in May 2015 unanimously outlawed property rentals of fewer than 30 days. The law took dead aim at wildly popular Airbnb, a service that allows people to rent out vacation homes, or even their own homes, while they’re out of town.
Earlier this month, the city bagged its first victim under the new law. Ms. Branson-Potts wrote that rental operator Scott Shatford, who listed five properties on Airbnb, reached a plea deal after being charged with eight misdemeanor counts of operating a business without a license and failing to comply with citations after he refused to stop renting out his properties.
In other words, Mr. Shatford was charged for recognizing that he had supply that was in demand, and entering into consensual agreements with other private citizens outside the auspices of government. And we all know you can’t have that. As a result of this egregious behavior, Mr. Shatford agreed to pay $3,500 in fines and to stop renting properties within the city. And he was placed on two years probation. For renting his own property.
This is far beyond ridiculous. First off, it reeks of protectionism for the hotel industry. But in the age of the disruptive economy — with Uber and Lyft, Netflix, Airbnb and more — the affected businesses should try doing what the disruptors have done: innovate. If you want a customer’s business, compete for it by providing a better product.
Second, Santa Monica’s interventions comes at great expense to the city’s taxpayers. That Vacation Rental Enforcement Task Force has three full-time employees — two code enforcement officers and an analyst. Then, of course, there’s the cost of prosecution. Mr. Shatford, who has written a book on home-sharing and was likely targeted by the city as it actually booked one of his properties to use as evidence, told Ms. Branson-Potts: “After all the time and money they spent … they’ve lost money on the whole situation.”
Finally, you’ve got the irony pointed out on Twitter by blogger David Burge (@iowahawkblog): “The people who howl about keeping govt out of your bedroom are the first ones who will arrest you for renting it out.”
This is needless regulation on steroids. And local governments here in Southern Nevada, which already have a host of regulations on Airbnb-type rentals, shouldn’t get any wild ideas about copying our California neighbor.