Moratoriums can be valuable tools, giving a community time to get its arms around a problem before it gets out of hand.
But they also represent a significant reach of government authority that threatens people’s rights and that should only be used after exhausting all other alternatives.
So before any community takes the drastic step of imposing a moratorium to deal with the growth of short-term rentals of homes (such as though Airbnb), they should consider first whether a widespread problem actually exists, and if it does, whether it rises to such an extreme level that there aren’t easier and existing solutions available.
During an online public hearing at 7 p.m. today, the town of Rotterdam will hear comments for and against such a moratorium, following complaints from a couple of local property owners about short-term rentals in their neighborhood.
One property owner said she fears having strangers residing next door and that she’d heard fighting among the rental parties.
Local Airbnb operators have countered that they’ve only had minor issues with their tenants, that tenants are screened and rated for conduct to help discourage undesirable tenants, and that Airbnb rentals are not prohibited in town, so there is no legal justification for a moratorium.
Are there irresponsible property owners who rent out their properties? Sure. Are there renters who abuse the rules and disturb the neighbors? Sure.
But with hundreds of properties being rented out in Rotterdam and surrounding communities, and with very few complaints, the town should be able to deal with Airbnb issues on its own without placing a blanket ban on them.
The town, for instance, could establish some rules or guidelines for short-term rentals, in cooperation with renters and neighborhood groups, to tamp down problems before they get out of hand.
Officials should also review existing noise and disturbance regulations and look at how they’re being enforced.
Maybe the town could set up an email address or phone line for neighbors to call to make complaints rather than involving police. The calls could be relayed to the renters so they can take immediate action.
The town also could agree to monitor properties where problems routinely occur and consider code enforcement.
Now that officials are aware of concerns, they can take the time to examine issues and potential solutions, and look at what other communities have done — without punishing an entire industry that right now isn’t really much of a problem.