From Lakeexpo.com 4/24/2017...The vacation rentals bill that Missouri lawmakers and the lodging industry are pushing through Jefferson City is a bait-and-switch.
House Bill 608 begins by stating cities and counties in Missouri would be prohibited from banning the short-term (less than 31 days) rental of homes—a nationwide economic phenomenon facilitated by websites such as AirBnB and VRBO. But then the bill lays out a regulatory framework for cities and counties to apply to those home rentals; many realtors and homeowners are saying this "cure" is worse than the disease.
The American Hotel & Lodging Association says new regulations on the peer-to-peer homesharing industry would level the playing field. Sadly, Missouri lawmakers appear to be taking the lodging industry's cues. The Missouri House of Representatives is loaded with Republicans: a party that has historically run on a platform of deregulation and less governmental involvement in people’s lives and business operations. But now Missourians are hearing those legislators talk about “reasonable regulations” and praise a “regulatory framework” that is supposedly good for business.
With the opposition from Missouri REALTORS—which represents more than 20,000 realtors across the state—HB 608 has met with some stout resistance. And the outcry grows louder each day; even a member of the Drury family (of the Missouri-based Drury Hotels chain) has pushed back against the bill, according to a source in Jefferson City. The bill has angered hoteliers by preventing an outright ban on vacation home rentals, but has also angered realtors and homeowners by creating a regulatory framework they find onerous. It appears HB 608 is running out of friends.
The problem with having a supermajority is there's no one else to blame when your stupid ideas turn out to be horribly unpopular.
At first blush, “reasonable regulations” sound… well, reasonable. But Missouri realtors and vacation homeowners know that’s just clever wordplay meant to obscure the fact that corporate lobbying interests are writing bills meant to stifle competition and innovation.
That’s because normal citizens know the truth that lawmakers try to ignore: “reasonable regulations” don’t hurt the businesses that are already established, since they’re the ones who get to define what’s “reasonable.” And what’s reasonable, to them, is anything that keeps them on top and throws obstacles at their competition or at any disruptive business models that might topple them in the future.
Every business loves to regulate their competition, and the “sharing economy” is disrupting the traditional hotel/motel business model. The lodging industry players will stop it if they can, and recently published documents show they have a plan.
At the Lake of the Ozarks, whose economy depends upon tourism, homeowners who rent to vacationers are watching in disbelief as their elected representatives support the bill, while using language and catchphrases that sound strangely similar to the corporations that penned the original version.
The Missouri Hotel and Lodging Association, Expedia, and even AirBnB have backed the bill, which (surprise, surprise!) opens the door to requirements that would place individual homeowners who rent on a short-term basis under stricter regulations than any hotel in the state.
This isn’t a level playing field: it’s a field slanted in favor of last year’s champion. Missouri homeowners are angry, and some are ready to send their lawmakers to the sidelines.
In 2016, Expedia worked to try and bring legal definition and regulation to the vacation rental sphere. But citizens pushed back, and as the bill grotesquely morphed in the final days of the legislative session, the people managed to kill it.
But in 2017, Expedia is back, with Missouri State Rep. Sonya Anderson leading the charge. Anderson’s district in the Springfield area includes an Expedia facility that employs several hundred people.
Expedia—according to a source familiar with the company’s operations—prefers to approach lawmakers, becoming influencers and advisors in crafting legislation that carves out legal definitions and model regulations.
Nobody blames Expedia for wanting to make profits, but the company sees cozying up to government as the best way to do it. That’s called “crony capitalism.” Simultaneously at work is the American Hotel and Lodging Association, whose members provide Expedia with much of its revenue. Proponents of the bill insist (and insist… and insist…) that it would prohibit cities and counties from banning short-term home rentals. And indeed, it does appear the bill would do that. But HB 608 doesn’t stop there: it also spells out an eerily specific list of “reasonable regulations” that cities and counties could enact if they see fit.
Expedia says those “reasonable regulations” help everyone win, keep customers safe, and prevent the kinds of bad experiences that lead to community backlash and further regulation or banning of the activity. In an email sent out to customers, Expedia’s vacation home rental website HomeAway wrote, “HB608 seeks to balances [sic] your property rights with the responsibility to be a good neighbor and consider the interests of communities.”
No thanks. Being a good neighbor is important, but does anyone really think lawmakers are the ones to help us do it?
Last week, amid outcry from constituents, legislators were frantically adding amendments, trying to salvage HB 608. Those amendments have certainly cleared up a few things, but the bill still contains a host of suggested regulations. The regulatory framework just got shored up a bit.
Missouri homeowners don’t need Expedia, AirBnB, lawmakers, or anyone else telling them how to use their own private property. There are plenty of laws on the books that already deal with public nuisances, trespassing, theft, and pretty much any other concern a community might have about those rowdy vacationers renting the house up the street.
If Expedia cares so much about communities and the quality of short-term rentals, why don’t they regulate themselves and their property owners who list at HomeAway and VRBO? Of course every home should have smoke detectors in living areas. But we don’t need Expedia to tell lawmakers to force homeowners to install smoke detectors.
Passing regulations to help businesses succeed is like holding someone’s head underwater to help them breathe. Lawmakers should give the people of Missouri a hand, and drown HB 608 instead.This is an editorial from Lakeexpo.com editorial staff. April 24, 2017