Anyone who follows politics, particularly of the conservative variety, is bound to be familiar with certain Big Government bogeymen, from the all-powerful Nanny State to bureaucrats out to regulate people’s lives.
But Big Fire Marshal? Really?
State Rep. Helena Moreno, a New Orleans Democrat who, like many other city officials, is trying to get a handle on the explosive growth of short-term rentals through web sites such as Airbnb, introduced a common-sense measure aimed at keeping all those visitors safe. House Bill 952 would have required that hosts provide fire extinguishers, smoke and carbon monoxide monitors and a map of the exits; ensure that exits are unobstructed; and pay $25 for a five-year certification with the state fire marshal. The bill would have given the office the right to inspect properties to check compliance.
That was all too much for Airbnb. The company’s lobbyist Jim Nickel raised alarms over the “largest expansion of fire marshal’s power in history.” Never mind that Nickel, a former chairman of the Louisiana Democratic Party, isn’t your typical small-government true believer.
It was also too much for the House Commerce Committee, which this week voted 9-5 to shelve the measure after one member, Mandeville Republican Reid Falconer, voiced concern over the prospect of “overwhelming monitoring.”
Nice of them all to look out for property owners, but you’ve got to wonder why their concern doesn’t extend to all the unsuspecting visitors who probably have no idea they might be checking into a fire trap. Is the thinking that they’re supposed to travel with their own fire extinguishers and carbon monoxide monitors, or rearrange furniture to clear obstructions once they check in? And are lawmakers really willing to risk an avoidable tragedy — and all the negative publicity that would attract — for the cause?
If it’s too intrusive to ask hosts to meet basic safety measures, how much more of a burden is it to expect guests to fend for themselves, either by trying to figure out ahead of time whether their hosts have taken precautions or by taking those precautions on their own?
Unless lawmakers come to their senses on this one, visitors who book their accommodations through these sites should remember one thing: They’re renting at their own risk.
‘Grace notes’ is a daily feature by Advocate columnist Stephanie Grace. To read more of her content, including her full columns, click here.