Allowable Uses: The Dualities of Property Rights in the 21st Century

Posted July 5, 2022 in Special Features

The establishment and protection of property rights has been occurring since the dawn of humankind. Societies have treated property rights differently throughout history, but in America, the foundation of the American Dream is entrepreneurship and private property. Many Americans have built and continue to build their wealth through the ownership of real property. – wealth that allows them to send their children off to college, start a business, live a comfortable life in retirement and have the security of having somewhere to call home.

The most basic definition of private property rights is outlined in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 17:

a) Everyone has the right to own property alone as well as in association with others.
b) No one shall be arbitrarily deprived of property.

Private property rights are, of course, not boundless. Allowable uses of different property & zoning types can be found in almost every jurisdiction around the world. Cities can impose design standards, counties can establish burn bans, and states can seize property through eminent domain. However, regulation of private property needs to be equitable and fair. The government shouldn’t be picking winners and losers, and a recent Columbian Article: Clark County code keeps farmers from hosting weddings, cashing in on demand for venues – The Columbian laid bare the inequities in allowable uses in the AG-20 zone– inequities that arbitrarily decide which businesses are given the opportunity to thrive, and which are facing needless government-imposed challenges.

Under AG-20 wineries are allowed to host up to 50 events per calendar year, without a conditional use permit and current code establishes it as an allowable use by licensed wineries. Our local farms should be granted the same opportunity. As we all have learned in the past 2 years, farms are essential, ensure food security, and reduce vehicle miles traveled. Allowable uses in the AG-20 zone should be modified to allow farms to host events on equal footing with our local wineries so that they can bring in extra income and more Clark County residents are given the opportunity to explore and enjoy these essential businesses. We should be supporting the economic vitality of these essential businesses, not holding them back, so they can continue to be a part of Clark County’s heritage.

In other areas of our community, a different set of allowable uses are being discussed. On June 27th the City of Vancouver held a workshop to discuss the use and potential regulation of short-term rentals throughout the city. Should short-term rentals be allowed in multifamily housing and condos, or exclusively allowable in single family housing? Should there be an owner occupancy requirement? How do we mitigate the impact of these rentals? These are all important questions to answer and relate back to allowable uses on private property.

More often than not, allowable uses are determined by zoning & adjacent uses. It is my belief and historical precedent that private property rights should only be restricted if a use unduly impacts other adjacent properties uses or quality of life. To this point, in the City of Vancouver, and according to the city’s own memo, staff estimate less than eight complaints about short term rentals are on file. Also, short term rentals only make up 0.4% of the City’s housing stock, disproving concerns about these uses exacerbating housing attainability and affordability. Property owners should have the right to house a short-term tenant just the same as a long-term tenant, or live on the property themselves. Short term rentals do not represent a complete divergence from the allowable use in the underlying zone.

Restricting short term rentals would take options away from tourists and visitors to Vancouver, forcing them to utilize other lodging options, many of which don’t fit the needs of guests, including large families, domestic abuse survivors, guests requiring limited public interaction, those receiving local medical treatment, those looking to move to the city, and others with unique needs. It is clear many travelers want a unique, immersive experience in a local community and short-term rentals are an avenue to satisfy those preferences. These short-term rentals also provide greater affordability with a median nightly rate of $118.

Among short-term rental operators, 79% only operate one rental, and 10% operate two. Clearly, these property owners are not multinational corporations and aim to provide affordable accommodation while also bringing in income, a win-win for all. The city’s suggestion of owner occupancy and other regulations would essentially eliminate short term rentals in the City of Vancouver and force those visiting into one type of accommodation. Again, local government should not be in the business of picking winners and losers.

Regulation is not all bad, but as a community we need to be cautious about how we approach private property rights. We must ensure that ownership of real property remain a viable way to achieve social mobility and generational wealth.

Justin Wood,
Government Affairs Director – Clark County
Association of REALTORS®