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The Chattanooga City Council discusses new short-term vacation rental legislation.
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David Martin
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Let's start by giving credit where credit is due: Chattanooga City Council's continued attempts to craft sensible rules around short-term vacation rentals is commendable.

The council could have easily tabled the matter once more, punting and waiting on the General Assembly in Nashville to pass some kind of statewide law. But no, the issue is on the docket again after last year's botched attempt, brought back by District 1 Councilman Chip Henderson.

Henderson's new proposal calls for a certification process that all homeowners wishing to rent their properties (typically on websites like Airbnb) must complete, as well as the creation of a "district" wherein short-term rentals are confined.

This rental zone extends from Missionary Ridge to the foot of Lookout Mountain, and from the North Shore to the Georgia line. Lookout Valley is included too, and individual council members would have the ability to propose new additions to the district "as they see fit" (read: if enough voters in a particular part of town demand inclusion).

Quoted earlier this month, an optimistic Henderson said, "This should get everybody [on the council] on board."

I hope not.

Because for all the kudos the council deserves for still trying to get short-term rental rules right, they continue to get the whole thing wrong.

And why is that?

Well, let's consider a couple of areas that haven't made it into the pending rental district, namely Brainerd, Tyner and Hixson. Why wouldn't homeowners in those places who're looking to earn extra income out of their property be allowed to do so while other homeowners across the same city are permitted?

A passage from an earlier TFP article is revealing: "In a January candidate forum, council members Carol Berz and Ken Smith said none of their constituents had spoken for such rentals. Berz's district includes Brainerd and Tyner, and Smith's includes Hixson."

Perhaps now would be an opportune moment for me to tell Carol I live in her district, and I'm in favor of homeowners doing whatever the heck they want with their property so long as they're not substantially detracting from their neighbors' quality of life.

So there's one in the Brainerd pro-rental column.

What the city council is trying to do is resolve this matter in a neighborhood-by-neighborhood, squeaky wheel fashion. If the folks in one city district overwhelmingly want short-term rentals, they get them. But if pro-rental residents in another area have been silent or shouted over by a few loud anti-rental folks, well, they get a totally different set of rules.

That's not how law-crafting works.

The drafting of rules and regulations should always be rooted in the rights of all applicable individuals — property owning Chattanoogans in this case — rather than the volume by which some people make their voices heard.

In this case, property rights are being trumped by nearsighted political expedience. Hence the clause about council members petitioning for new areas to be added "as they see fit." If their electorate gives them new marching orders on short-term rentals, the logic built into the policy is that a councilperson can carry those orders to their peers for alteration.

Never mind the fact that individuals shouldn't be forced to mount a campaign so they can partake in the same freedoms their friends one neighborhood over enjoy. It's regretful that the full scope of this pending policy, its enforcement and franchise, is subject to political whims.

Let me be the first to suggest that's a precedent we needn't toy with, now or ever.

In a January forum, Berz and Smith insisted that a citywide "one-size-fits-all" solution wouldn't work for short-term rentals. Laws, however, are supposed to be "one-size-fits-all." They're fundamentally flawed otherwise.

Contact David Allen Martin at davidallenmartin423@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @DMart423.

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