The victory for Institute for Justice clients Blayne and Julie McAferty keeps them secure in their business and free from unnecessary government interference.
By Michael Bindas
After a year and a half of fighting to vindicate their right to earn an honest living, Institute for Justice clients Blayne and Julie McAferty can keep their Greenlake Guesthouse open for business. In August, the Seattle City Council amended the City’s bed-and-breakfast ordinance to eliminate its senseless ban on “exterior structural alterations.” The City had earlier relied on that provision in ordering the McAfertys to shut down their B&B.
The McAfertys’ ordeal began nearly three years ago. Encouraged by a then-recently enacted ordinance allowing B&Bs in single-family, residential neighborhoods, they decided to pursue their dream of opening their own B&B. They found a home with potential in Seattle’s Green Lake neighborhood but realized it would need some work. Concerned about a provision in the ordinance that prohibited “exterior structural alterations . . . made to accommodate [a] bed and breakfast,” they sought the City’s assurance that their plan to add two window dormers would be allowed. The City provided that assurance, explaining that the ordinance merely prohibited the addition of an exterior structure like a parking structure that would detract from the home’s residential character.
On that basis, the McAfertys bought the house and, with a City-issued remodeling permit, turned it into the Greenlake Guesthouse.
Just a few months after the McAfertys opened their doors, however, the City issued them a notice of violation ordering them to shut down or face fines of $75 per day. In a reversal of its position prompted by the complaints of a particular neighbor, the City now maintained that the window dormers did violate the ban on exterior structural alterations.
Bizarrely, the dormers would have been perfectly legal on any other home in the neighborhood. It was only because the McAfertys added them to facilitate a B&B that they were deemed illegal.
Represented by the Institute for Justice Washington Chapter, the McAfertys challenged the senseless ban as an unconstitutional infringement of their economic liberty—the right to earn an honest living. Within days of the lawsuit, the City agreed to stay any enforcement against the McAfertys and to work toward a legislative solution.
The result—a year and a half in the making—was worth the wait. The bill that passed in August eliminates the ban on exterior structural alterations and allows B&B owners to make alterations consistent with the development standards of the underlying neighborhood. In other words, the bill treats a B&B the same as any other home in the neighborhood.
It also changes from three to five the number of guest rooms that B&Bs in single-family, residential neighborhoods may have. That is a big boost for would-be B&B owners, because industry studies show that five rooms is an important benchmark for economic viability. It is also great news for B&B patrons, because the leading guidebooks that rate B&Bs typically do not review establishments with only three rooms.
From the very start, IJ recognized the importance of the McAfertys’ struggle. Unfortunately, it is one we’ve witnessed time and again, where individuals want to provide a good and important service to their community but are blocked from doing so by the heavy hand of government. We wish the McAfertys the best of success in their now-secure enterprise. And if you’re ever visiting Seattle, you know where to stay!
Michael Bindas is an Institute for Justice Washington Chapter staff attorney.