Council chokes residents’ financial windpipes 6 more months, keeps Airbnb ban

Rebecca Little is fighting for the right to run Airbnb. Here she is in city court after being dunned by Mayor Andy Berke’s economic development people on accusations that she is involved in economic development. (Photo David Tulis)

City council members met with mayoral staffer Donna Williams Tuesday and will do nothing to overturn their illegal “overlay map” that forbids hundreds of families from engaging in prosperity through Airbnb and other home-sharing Net platforms.

By David Tulis / 92.7 NoogaRadio

In an interview Tuesday after the regular city council meeting, Mrs. Williams, who serves Mayor Andy Berke and oversees its economic development bureau, said that the members of council accept the overlay map at the end of its first year, and order no changes in its size.

The David Tulis show is 1 p.m. weekdays, live and lococentric.

They are open to administrative updates, and say they will review the program once more in 6 months. But no elected representatives pushed for a change.

Mrs. Williams says the only major change is administrative, and that is her desire to have the city be paid up front rather than later in the permit application process. Thirty percent of applicants do not follow complete the process, meaning that some cases generate nine hours of staff labor without a fee payoff at the end. Mrs. Williams would like to collect up front.

Council members accept illegal act

The so called overlay map is unconstitutional on several grounds, but remains unchallenged in court because none of the offended families are willing to defy the false claims of the ordinance in court.

Hundreds of families are excluded from the use of the Internet here in the Gig City, thanks to the city council’s orders that went into effect in October 2017. The city boasts about its connectivity, is blooming Internet economy and many other strengths in its marketing, but it forbids the use of the Internet among hundreds of families outside the zone from participating in the private and lucrative service of giving visitors to Chattanooga a home in which to stay, rather than a hotel.

Mrs Williams said no city council person wanted to change the map to have his or her district included in it, but also that none of the council members at the meeting indicated they wanted to step outside the district, either.  

The ordinance is unconstitutional because it makes a distinction between legally like parties. A man living on one side of a street is allowed to apply for the permit and be short-term vacation rental. However, across the street another man is denied access to a license and permit to do so, because the overlay map separates them with its imaginary line down the middle of the street.

In fact, rule is toothless

Such a distinction is arbitrary and capricious and its the main violation of due process rights against the residents of the city imposed by the corporation City of Chattanooga. The rule suffers other defects that are breathtaking in their disregard for state law. For example, the ordinance pretends that the city can charge in the same case multiple F$50 fines against a purported scofflaw homeowner, whereas the constitution allows maximum of a $50 fine per case.

In light of this actual limit, the ordinance is essentially toothless, with the fine maxing out at F$50. The city cannot legally demand a $50 payment per day in a single case. If it can stack a F$50 for every day a person runs an Airbnb, that act essentially voids the constitution. Which, of course, is a joke. For it to get the second F$50 fine, it would have to launch a separate and distinct case. The doctrine is called res judicata.

It would be impractical for the city to do that, so the limit that anyone would have to pay by way of fine is F$50. But not a single offended Chattanoogan has the nerve to defy these paper claims by being accused by Mrs. Williams and the city attorney. Everybody is afraid. Everybody sits on their hands, and suffers quietly.

According to, Mrs. Williams has not had to take any action against hosts for violations. A host can lose the certificate if taken to city court on two violations. But she is sending notices to those outside the overlay district who are surveiled by Web contractors as being involved in Internet solicitations for out-of-town visitors or renters. Since the new system was established in June 2017, there have been 195 applications submitted. Of those, 54 are owner-occupied.


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