BLOG

P.S: If this is Austin, what’s wrong with you?

BY HANNAH COX

August 3, 2016 3:15PM

In an apparent attempt to win some sort of award for America’s most draconian city, Austin, TX followed up its astounding, overreaching regulations that ultimately drove Uber and Lyft out of the city with a frightening new set of rulings on Airbnb.

Once in the not-so-distant past, Austin was considered America’s “it” city-a city bursting at the seams with innovation, millennials, music, technology, and food. Newcomers flocked to the area pushing Austin over the 2 million people mark last year.

With all of this growth and interest, Austin quickly became one of the hottest Airbnb markets, particularly during large events such as South by Southwest-a festival that attracts over 130,000 to a city with only 30,000 hotel rooms total, and only 7,000 downtown. Austin’s tourism explosion coupled perfectly with its demographic, as many residents of the city work for start-ups and rely on the peer-to-peer economy to fund their careers.

However, despite the fact that much of Austin’s tourism industry is dependent on Airbnb, and regardless of the fact that many of Austin’s residents are dependent on Airbnb to help pay their bills, the city decided to crack down on the service with a new set of regulations this year. One of those regulations is a ban on assemblies of more than seven people between the hours of 7am and 10 pm. Gatherings of ten or more people are banned no matter what time of day it is.

Additionally, Austin’s regulations ban more than 2 people from sleeping in the same room, and even go so far as to ban those adults from “engaging in any group activity other than sleeping” between 10 pm and 7 am, which means that absolutely no one should go on their honeymoon there.

How could a city even enforce such ridiculous and brazenly unconstitutional regulations? Easy. The regulations also give city officials (from the Codes department no less) the power to search residential properties without a warrant at “all reasonable times.” Since the majority of these regulations come into effect after 10 pm, this law essentially says that random employees from the Codes department can come barging in your home in the middle of the night to ensure that everyone is behaving as they’d prefer.

Under no circumstance should any city official or government employee be allowed to search a home without a warrant. That is a glaring violation of constitutional rights, including (but not limited to) the right to assembly, the right to privacy, and protection from unreasonable search and seizure.

Fortunately, these absurd laws are being challenged by a foundation in Texas, just as the Beacon Center has challenged our own city’s unconstitutional regulations on Airbnb. It’s a good thing that there are organizations around to fight such blatant violations of our rights, but it’s a sad state of affairs when these types of lawsuits are necessary.

Americans need to be defenders of property and privacy rights. If Airbnb creates problems in a neighborhood, such as noise or parking issues, there are already legal measures that can be used to address these concerns. Let’s let our existing laws work. Clearly, when attempting to regulate the use of someone else’s property things can escalate quickly. We cannot call ourselves the land of the free while regulating how someone uses one of their most intimate possessions.