Austin City Council continues consideration of ordinance on short-term rentals

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Austin tourists may have safer housing options when they come to town for popular events if Austin City Council approves new regulations on short-term rentals.

The council will vote Thursday on a proposed set of regulations for short-term rentals — properties that are rented out for less than 30 days at a time. Created by council member Chris Riley, the regulations would set a three percent cap on the number of non-owner occupied rentals allowed in a single zip code. There would be no cap on owner-occupied short-term rentals. In addition, all owners of such properties would be required to register with the city and pay the relevant hotel taxes, Riley’s executive assistant Matt Parkerson said.

Vacationers are the primary market for short-term rentals and can include people who are in town for entertainment, such as the Austin City Limits Music Festival and South By Southwest. Austin’s policies do not currently address short-term rentals, he said.

A preliminary vote on the proposed regulations was passed by the council in June with a vote of 5-2, the majority in favor.

“It’s kind of a gray area right now,” Parkerson said. “Our code doesn’t really say anything one way or the other.”

Since the preliminary vote, the topic has raised much local debate on both sides of the issue.

The grassroots organization Protect Austin Neighborhoods was created to oppose the regulation of non-owner-occupied short-term rentals. Many in the organization said the regulations make Austin housing less affordable because it might increase the number of houses classified as commercial short-term rental space, leaving less space available for long-term city residents, according to information on its website.

Council Member Kathie Tovo said she will be voting against the proposed regulations in Thursday’s meeting and would like to see an outright ban on short-term rentals in residential areas, or at least much stronger restrictions than what has been proposed.

“I don’t support STRs in residential areas at all,” she said. “I think they have a detrimental impact on the quality of life in our neighborhoods and on the supply of housing as well.”

Members of Protect Austin Neighborhoods rallied in front of the HomeAway corporate headquarters at West Fifth Street and North Lamar Boulevard July 21 to oppose the passage of the STR regulations. HomeAway, a corporation that advertises STRs on its website, came out in support of the proposed regulations.

The Austin Board of Realtors, on the other hand, has endorsed the passage of the regulations, and has created its own web-based campaign to promote the changes.

Emily Chenevert, an Austin Board of Realtors spokeswoman, said the proposed regulations seem like a positive solution to a complicated issue.

“We believe that that motion kind of strikes a balance between protecting the private property rights of investors and current homeowners who want to utilize their property as a short-term rental and also protects or respects the neighbor that lives next to them.”

Bob Easter, owner of two STRs and founder of the Austin Rental Alliance, an organization that has gotten around 180 short-term rentals to pay hotel-occupancy taxes, said he thinks the proposed regulations handle the issue of STRs fairly and will benefit Austin overall by reducing the number of run-down and illegally run STRs with stronger city regulations.

“I want fair regulations, I want people to pay their hotel taxes and I want the bad actors out,” he said.

The Protect Austin Neighborhood organization is planning another protest in front of City Hall Thursday morning at 11:30 a.m., according to information on its Facebook page.