December 2, 2019
By Christina Sandefur
Our friends at the Texas Public Policy Foundation just scored a major win for property rights, as a Texas appellate court struck down the city of Austin’s onerous anti-home-sharing ordinance. Last year, we filed a brief in support of Austin home-sharers, who faced regulations subjecting them to warrantless searches, prohibiting them from offering their home as a short-term rental if the home isn’t their primary residence, and limiting the number and activity of their short-term guests.
City officials claimed these regulations were necessary because home-sharing causes nuisances and disrupts neighborhoods. But the court refused to accept the city’s excuses – after all, the data doesn’t support the city’s claims that home-sharing causes major disruptions or that short-term rentals cause any more disruptions than other residential uses in Austin. And to the extent that short-term guests do occasionally get noisy—the city already has nuisance laws to address these problems. These new restrictions, on the other hand, don’t actually do anything to address or prevent nuisances. The warrantless searches, primary residence requirement, and guest curfew apply across the board, regardless of whether homeowners or guests are causing—or have ever caused—a problem.
As we pointed out in our brief, an alarming number of cities are using such thinly veiled excuses to justify imposing draconian regulations on home-sharing—or banning the practice outright. These regulations are solutions in search of a problem—they destroy property rights and economic opportunity without actually keeping neighborhoods quiet, clean, and safe.
But courts are starting to see through the façade. In Arizona, we won a similar victory for homeowners when a court barred the city of Sedona from using “public safety” excuses to justify its anti-home-sharing rules. Just as with Austin, city records showed that Sedona officials banned rentals not to address actual disturbances, but to impose personal preferences by eliminating visitors in neighborhoods. We’re thrilled to see Texas courts follow suit. Cities in Texas—and nationwide—should take note and focus their regulations on addressing specific, legitimate concerns, rather than relying on exaggerated and unsubstantiated claims to justify depriving responsible homeowners of their rights.
Christina Sandefur is the Executive Vice President at the Goldwater Institute.