Constituents deserve legislative involvement during times of controversy

Lindsay Russell Dexter Articles

It may be too late for the city of Rexburg to untangle the Airbnb mess it has caused, but there’s still time — and hope — for Idaho Falls.

The Idaho Falls mayor, city council and Idaho Falls Community Services have an opportunity to keep homeowners associations from meddling in private property rights — by simply following Idaho state law.

House Bill 511 was passed during the 2016 legislative session and protects Idahoans from overzealous homeowners associations (HOA) that wish to impede the property rights of property owners affiliated with an HOA. Specifically, House Bill 511 which is now state law, safeguards property owners against HOAs that create new covenants that infringe on a homeowner’s ability to rent out his private property. HB 511 extends to short-term rentals like Airbnb.

However, it would make sense for some Eastern Idaho city officials to be confused about HB 511, especially when two prominent Eastern Idaho state legislators went against it. President Pro Tempore Brent Hill and Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis voted against the legislation, which were votes that did undermine personal property rights. Hill and Davis were joined by 12 other nay votes, which included four Democrats. Nonetheless, the bill became law.

In Rexburg, several Airbnb proponents testified that their HOAs had sent them notifications, which stated that the individual homeowners were violating rental covenants. However, those covenants were not in the original contracts, signed by the homeowners, prior to the passage of HB 51. Additionally, several of the proponents testified that their individual HOAs had made changes to the contracts in secret meetings where all of the property owners had not been properly notified.

Hill did not attend any of the Rexburg city council meetings to listen to the pleas of his constituents whose property rights were being stepped on. It’s conceivable that Sen. Hill could have used his indepth knowledge of House Bill 511 (which he voted against) to clear up any confusion regarding the powers HOAs have — or don’t have — to regulate short-term rentals. Yet, Sen. Hill did not participate in Rexburg City Council meetings.

There is still hope for Idaho Falls property owners who belong to HOAs. Despite rumblings from a small number of local residents, Airbnb has not been on that city council’s agenda for discussion or public testimony. But, when it it lands on the agenda, which it probably will, perhaps Sen. Davis can insert himself into the discussion and cite HB 511, despite his nay vote, and put the kibosh on HOAs that are trying to encroach on private property owners.

Although Hill and Davis voted against House Bill 511, they still have the duty to educate their concerned constituents when important policy is addressed by state government. Their participation is especially imperative when they can provide expertise on a bill they both voted on only a few months earlier.