What is Sexual Freedom Without a Room?

Commentary, Regulation, Lee Harding

“The state has no place in the bedrooms of the nation,” Justice Minister of Canada famously said in 1967.

Fifty years later, this statement is no longer true. People who are straight, gay, transgendered, or otherwise cannot get a room for the night from anyone willing to rent. No, when it comes to Airbnb and other room-sharing services…the state has a lot to say.

Whatever happened to consenting adults? Someone has a room to rent. You like the room and its price. You pay the host and get the room. Everybody’s happy, right?

Apparently not. That “everyone” does not include the unionized workers of the hospitality industry. They helped organize Fairbnb, a group that ostensibly exists to ensure “fairness” in regulation for Airbnb. The underlying motive of the union that sponsors it, however, is to curb development of Airbnb and protect union jobs.

This lobbying has created an irony of our times—complete sexual freedom in the bedroom, but strict rules how the bedroom can be acquired—and from whom. Everyday people who want to make money from their homes are opposed by unions who want as many workers as possible. Their unions want to get as high of wages as possible and therefore the highest union dues possible. These unionized employees labour in hotels that cost millions of dollars—obviously much more than the average homeowner. Then guests pay a higher rate to cover the unionized labour.

A marketplace where Airbnb can proliferate to meet demand and hotels can respond with competitive prices is the one that will be the most fair. People will make consensual choices with their homes and with their wallet, and whatever result ensues by these individual decisions constitutes our collective choice.

Such realizations are beyond the myopic focus of the rabble that opposes Airbnb. Last April, Airbnb success in Kensington Market sparked a protest “funeral” by 20 protesters who didn’t like the Airbnb effect. The “mourners” included a lady who complained the free market was changing the neighbourhood and replacing family stores with eateries for tourists. Meanwhile, Thorben Wieditz of Unite Here Local 75 for hotel workers complained to the Toronto Star about Airbnb hosts with multiple listings: “People realize they can make a lot of money off of tourists.”

Ha! Is Wieditz stupid, or does he think that we are? Hotel owners and unionized workers are the ones who make a lot of money off of tourists—and have for years. Now they are afraid of Airbnb hosts with rooms to offer cleaned by the owners or non-unionized services. Wieditz got more bizarre in the Star when his November 9 column compared Airbnb to people “throwing rocks through your neighbours’ windows, and then…selling everyone burglar alarms and vandalism insurance.” This coincided with his appearance before Toronto’s planning committee calling on them to ban secondary suites from Airbnb listings.

Short-sighted claims of “there goes the neighbourhood” ignore the other side: “there goeth we without Airbnb.” Just ask Paul Nedoszytko, who also spoke to Toronto’s planning committee. With the help of his wife, he renovated his basement for rent four years ago and now claims he has people there under Airbnb every night, apparently earning $67 a stay.  “I have no pension, I have no drug plan, I have no dental plan,” Paul Nedoszytkto told Toronto city councillors, “We’re really behind the eight ball in terms of preparing for our future.”

Sophia Virani of Etobicoke added, “If Airbnb didn’t exist, I couldn’t buy this house. My only way of affording that, and having children with a backyard, is to be able to rent it [the basement] out short-term.”

Unfortunately, Toronto seems poised to ignore its administration’s initial advice and ban secondary suites just as Vancouver did.

This is wrong.

If someone converts their basement into an independent suite for Airbnb, who is a politician, a bureaucrat, a union-sponsored lobbyist, or anyone else to say who can stay on their property for what price, or under what terms? When regulation becomes an outright ban of free choices, it has gone too far.