By Farzad Mashhood
The city’s planning commission recommended policies setting requirements for property owners who rent out houses for less than 30 days at a time, taking a more complicated set recommended by a committee.
The so-called short-term rentals, most recognizable as a home being rented when the owner skips town during South by Southwest or the Austin City Limits Music Festival, have been a contentious issue at City Hall since officials began studying them almost two years ago with the goal of writing some rules for the currently unregulated use of single-family homes.
Opponents have called the rentals a nuisance, incompatible with neighborhoods and said they’re illegal while their defenders have said they fill an important need, draw revenue to the city and have been unfairly depicted by opponents.
The commission approved the rules by a 6-0-3 vote in Tuesday’s meeting, just 2 minutes before it became Wednesday.
Recommended by the commission’s codes and ordinances committee, the rules will separate short-terms rentals into two groups: ones that are owner-occupied, a registered homestead and rented out less than 90 days per year, and ones that are not owner-occupied, a registered homestead or rented out 90 days or more.
The first group of homes would need a health and safety inspection, while the second group requires that and a conditional use permit from the city, which entails a public hearing with the planning commission and possibly with the city council. The second type of homes also couldn’t be within 1,000 feet of another type-two rental or a bed and breakfast. All rentals can have their registration revoked if the property has three or more valid complaints regarding actions by tenants.
“We’d hoped to bring all the stakeholders together in middle ground. … The more we talked about it, the farther apart the sides became,” commission Vice Chair Mandy Dealey said. “I know neither side likes it.”
The city council will need to vote on the commission’s recommendation and address some issues the commission was not able to hammer out in Tuesday’s meeting, likely on June 7.
Regulation of short-term rentals can ensure that the city has a contact for the previously-under-the-radar properties to address problems, and the state can collect hotel taxes, said Robert Heil, a senior planner for the city.
Tuesday night, the planning commission considered a pair of proposals, both of which required all short-term rentals to register with the city.
“A lot of the concerns … have been about the difficulty of getting in contact with somebody if there’s a problem at the property,” Heil said. “If there is an ability to contact the property owner or their agent directly, we think it will be easier to resolve problems.”
Many supporters of more laxed regulation of short-term rentals said they also want short-term rentals to be registered with the city, and some suggested that stiffer rules would encourage landowners who cause problems to avoid registering – and paying hotel taxes – in the first place.
“I understand that some people do not want people in their neighborhoods who are not full time residents. But we cannot legislate who our neighbors are,” said Cynthia Reynolds, a member of the Austin Rental Alliance who short-term rents a home in the Zilker neighborhood.
Andrew Elder, president of the Zilker Neighborhood Association, said short-term rentals do not fit in the Imagine Austin plan, a long-term vision for the city.
“The Texas Supreme Court has made it quite clear that nobody with a property right has a vested interest in having their property up-zoned,” said Tom Nuckols, a board member for the Barton Hills Neighborhood Association.
Allowing commercial short-term rentals, one’s that are exclusively rented short-term, to be treated like other residences allows people to have their homes essentially upgraded to a more valuable zoning, said Nuckols, who is also an assistant Travis County attorney.
However, owners of short-term rentals should be treated just like other property owners, said Emily Chenevert, the Austin Board of Realtor’s government affairs director.
The commission rejected a proposal by city staff to option requires only registration for homes that rent four times of less per year, and then a health and safety inspection for homes that rent five times or more per year.
“To receive the staff recommendation on Friday which pretty much, in my opinion, guts everything the committee and the workgroup did is a little frustrating to bring now,” commissioner Jean Stevens said.
The rules will now go to the city council, where there will be a public hearing, but no action, on Thursday.