LEHMAN: Let's balance individual rights and government oversight

July 15, 2017

DEBATE QShould Indiana cities be allowed to regulate short-term rental housing like that promoted by Airbnb and other sites?


ATo quote Nobel Prize winner Bob Dylan, “The times they are a-changin’.” In 2010, after two people had trouble hailing a cab, Uber was born. Now, 2 billion rides have been given by Uber drivers using their personal vehicles to shuttle others around. Via a phone app, this technology connecting those in need of a ride at the push of a button is ushering in a new era—the sharing economy.

With the great success of the ride-sharing model, it is no surprise that other sharing platforms burst onto the scene. A very popular and one of the fastest-growing models is Airbnb, a platform allowing hosts to rent out their homes or a room on their property for short periods of time. Airbnb connects travelers needing places to stay with entrepreneurial homeowners who see opportunities to make a few bucks by renting out their private property.

While this sounds good and embraces our great capitalist society, there is the ever-presence of government. As the regulator of all things that happen in our society, government has a few concerns. Do people have a right to use their property as they see fit with no oversight? What about local ordinances regarding public safety or impacts on the environment? What about taxation? Isn’t this a local-control issue? What about the common good?

This past legislative session, I attempted to thread the needle between an individual’s right to use his or her own property as seen fit and the rights of the government and other citizens who might oppose this new venture. I was unsuccessful in this attempt, but I believe we must be diligent in finding ways for Hoosiers and local governments to coexist in this new sharing economy.

On the Fourth of July, I always read the words of our Founders as I look for inspiration on my journey. There is a common thread in their writings—personal freedom. Freedom to own, use and sell what is rightfully mine without the consent of government.

When it comes to individual property rights, the government’s role should be limited, with control over only those things that can truly be proven to protect the general public. While some policies require uniformity because they universally affect the public, like traffic laws and public health policies, I do not believe renting out space in one’s own home for short periods of time falls into this category.

As we try to strike a balance between protecting individual property rights with advancing the common good, let me share this quote by Sir William Blackstone, an 18th century British jurist whose work is cited by our own U.S. Supreme Court: “So great moreover is the regard of the law for private property, that it will not authorize the least violation of it; no, not even for the general good of the whole community.”

That’s a pretty high bar for any government in its attempt to control the rights of a person and his or her property.•


Lehman, a Republican representing House District 79, is from Berne. Send comments to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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