Judge hearing short-term rental cases owns Airbnb houses - WSMV News 4

Judge hearing short-term rental cases owns Airbnb houses

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Airbnb's website claims more than 3,000 active rentals in Nashville. (WSMV) Airbnb's website claims more than 3,000 active rentals in Nashville. (WSMV)

A Metro councilman is urging a General Sessions magistrate to recuse himself from cases involving short-term rental properties because the magistrate owns two houses rented on Airbnb.

Part-time magistrate Jim Todd, who has presided over the General Sessions Environmental Court for seven years, owns and operates two short-term rental properties in Nashville.

For the past six months, Todd has presided over civil cases involving the Metro Codes Department suing property owners for short-term rental permit violations.

“I only rule whether or not you operated one without a lawful permit. That’s it,” Todd said. “If I find that, by statute, you’re suspended for three years.”

Todd said he notified General Sessions Judge Allegra Walker he owns the rental houses when he began hearing the cases. She told him there was no conflict of interest.

“We discussed it,” Todd added. “I believe she sought an opinion from the Board of Judicial Conduct,and they indicated to her there was no conflict.”

But Metro Councilman Freddie O’Connell disagrees. O’Connell, who is fighting for more regulation of non-owner occupied short-term rental properties in Nashville, argues Todd and Metro attorney Katie Downey should both recuse themselves from these cases. Downey also owns and operates a rental home on Airbnb.

"These two people actually sit at the one place where you can actually control the number of permits that are out there for people operating legally,” O’Connell said. “If they have the opportunity to shrink or expand that market to improve their position in the marketplace, that's an extraordinary economic incentive."

Mayor Barry’s press secretary Sean Braisted issued the following statement to Channel 4:

Ms. Downey serves as a legal representative of the Metro Government and she occasionally represents the Codes Department when seeking to enforce codes in environmental court when a property owner fails to comply with legal notices. She is assigned cases on an as-needed basis, and does not have discretion in selecting which operators are in non-compliance. In short, no, there is not a conflict of interest.

Todd is also a legal analyst for Channel 4.

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