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May 2 2017

Real Choice When It Comes to Where to Live

via Forbes
by Carrie L. Lukas

More than ever, Americans expect to have a lot of choice about what we buy and how we live.   Someone buying a new car expects to be able to customize it with the features that make sense for our unique families.  We pick out furniture and fabrics from just about anywhere on the globe, and evaluate a long list of service providers on one of the many internet sites dedicated to presenting us with an often-overwhelming list of choices.

Of course, one of the biggest choices that Americans make is where to live:  Do we want to live in an urban environment, a close-knit neighborhood with sidewalks and cul-de-sacs, or somewhere more rural?  When renting an apartment or buying a house, we consider tradeoffs between cost and amount of space, quality of local schools and length of commute, and a multitude of other factors.

Here’s another choice that Americans ought to be able to make:  Whether to live in a location where home owners can rent out their homes on a daily basis.  Many will consider the option of living in an area that allows short-term rentals to be a big plus.  Having the ability to rent out your home on a per-night basis means that you can earn income when you need it.  Even if you don’t want to use your home as a short-term rental, having that option may be attractive to future buyers, boosting home values.

But many others may prefer not to live near short-term rentals.  Parents with small children who don’t want traffic on their street or strangers on their sidewalks may prefer somewhere that stipulates that homeowners are not allowed to run their property as a private hotel.  People moving into an apartment building may not want to share common living space, such as hallways, lobbies and even walls with strangers who are just visiting for a short time, and who may stay up late, create more noise, or fail to pick up after themselves as those with a long-term interest and reputation in the building.

Those objecting to local ordinances that would designate where people can and cannot operate a short-term rental often argue that such laws limit people’s choices and their freedom to use their private property. Yet this argument overlooks how the failure to create a variety of communities with different rules also limits people’s options and their freedom to live in a neighborhood that reflects their preferences.  Wanting to live somewhere that doesn’t include a private hotel is just as legitimate a preference as wanting to operate that hotel, which is why communities ought to be free to make rules over the practice that fit their residences’ preferences.

Such limitations on private property use are nothing new.  Cities and towns have long set rules and zoning laws about where for-profit businesses can operate and be made open to the public.  Homeowners associations often set other rules limiting options for those who want to live in their area:  the style of house, the color of homes, potential for additions, even the color and style of fences and mailboxes.  Just as we recognize that some people may welcome the opportunity to live where everyone is required to paint their home beige, we should also respect that some people might also prefer to live where homes can only be occupied by long-term residents and their (nonpaying) guests.

Ideally, these laws should be as localized as possible, so that people can truly have options about what type of community they prefer to live in and the laws would reflect the preferences of those residents.  Policymakers ought to recognize the pros and cons of too sweeping laws or regulations and seek to find a balance:  Outlawing the innovative use of private property for commerce will drive away visitors and entrepreneurs, and be a drag on the local economy; failing to give people the choice to live in a truly residential environment will also deter families from settling there.

For me, I’ve loved using short-term rentals when traveling:  Finding space for my large family with five kids can often be challenging—and prohibitively expensive—in a traditional hotel.  The availability of short-term rentals has made it much easier for us to travel and show our kids different parts of the world.  Yet when choosing where to live, I wouldn’t want to live in an area that allowed short-term lodging.  With five kids, I want to know my neighbors and for those neighbors to know that kids might be riding bikes along the street.

A part of buying into a neighborhood is buying into their rules; in fact, that’s a much more important choice than house color or style.

Independent Women’s Forum’s mission is to improve the lives of Americans by increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty. Sister organization of Independent Women’s Voice.
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