Austin takes first step to reduce short-term rentals in neighborhoods

James Barragan   |   October 16, 2015

 After months of debate over how to strengthen its short-term rentals ordinance and address complaints about “party houses,” the Austin City Council rounded out its recommendations with a proposal to phase out some rentals in residential areas. In a jam-packed Thursday night meeting that ran into the early hours of Friday, the council also decided to move forward with crafting tougher background checks for granting and renewing licenses for short-term rentals and developing a tiered system for license fees. +Austin takes first step to reduce short-term rentals in neighborhoods photo The audience at a City Council meeting last month included neighborhood advocates who want to crack down on “Type 2” short-term ... Read More Council Member Kathie Tovo, who suggested two of the three approved amendments, emphasized the council’s vote didn’t mean those recommendations would be immediately enacted. It was only the first step in a months-long discussion that will go to other city entities to help hash out how such policies would be crafted, she said. Much of the debate has centered around “Type 2” short-term rentals, which are rented out to a succession of guests year-round without the owner living on the property. David Lauderback told council members that such a property has become a disruptive presence in his neighborhood, hosting drunken parties and even serving as the set for an adult film. “This is not a few bad actors,” Lauderback said. “This is a systemic problem across the city.” Tovo proposed phasing such Type 2 properties out of residential areas, unless the property obtained a conditional use permit or otherwise demonstrated it was a good fit for the area. Several council members who supported the motion said they were opposed to these kinds of rentals in neighborhoods but wanted to be fair to the owners of rental properties that haven’t had any problems. “I do not like Type 2 short-term rentals at all,” Council Member Ann Kitchen said. “But I’m also sensitive to the people that are already here and that have been good actors.” The recommendation narrowly passed by a vote of 6-5, with Council Members Tovo, Kitchen, Leslie Pool, Delia Garza, Sabino “Pio” Renteria and Ora Houston voting in favor. The council also supported an amendment that would require properties seeking to become short-term rentals to be free of any citations within the past two years. Pool also earned council support for her proposal to set different fees based on the types of short-term rental properties. This would mean that “Type 1” properties, where owners reside in the home and typically rent out a room, would have a smaller fee than other rentals in which the entire home or unit is rented out. Short-term rental supporters and owners said such new regulations are overkill when the problem is a few bad properties. “Over-regulation of all types of short-term rentals as a response to the failure of the city to enforce the current laws against a minuscule number of offenders is not the answer,” said Sharon Walker, who spoke for rental owners at Thursday’s meeting. Several council members who voted against the recommendations said the city’s Code Department needs to enforce the laws already on the books. “We have given you new enforcement tools that you have asked for,” Council Member Sheri Gallo said to Code Department staffers, “so please do your job and shut down the party houses that are disrupting our neighborhoods.” Tackling short-term rentals Since June, when Council Member Sheri Gallo first raised concerns about short-term rentals, the council has called for 22 new provisions in the city’s ordinance as well as a yearlong moratorium on new Type 2 short-term rentals, in which the owner doesn’t reside in the property. These provisions will be crafted by city staffers and reviewed by other advisory groups before returning to the City Council for final approval. Among the changes the council has requested: New penalties for people who operate short-term rentals without a license, and increased penalties for ordinance violators. Requiring ads for short-term rentals to include their city license number and occupancy limit. Requiring rental operators to keep a guest registry. Authorizing officials to deny or revoke licenses when false information is provided on applications. Requiring a local contact if the owner lives out of town. Requiring supplemental parking when necessary. Repealing the “test the water” clause, which allowed owners to market their property to gauge interest without registering with the city. Allowing violations to be dealt with at administrative hearings instead of municipal courts. Requiring certificate of occupancy and inspections to obtain a license. Preventing clustering of Type 2 short-term rentals within 1,000 feet of one another. Prohibiting the use of short-term rentals for gatherings such as bachelor parties, weddings and concerts; violators would lose their short-term rental license. Banning assemblies of more than six people outside, no outside gatherings after 10 p.m., no more than six unrelated guests, no more than 10 guests total and no more than two people per bedroom, plus two. Authorizing the Code Department to enforce the city’s noise ordinance, which previously was only enforced by police. Allowing photos, videos and eyewitness accounts to be used as evidence in administrative hearings for violations. Requiring short-term rental listing sites to collect hotel and motel taxes.

Source: Austin American Statesman