The Austin Planning Commission ended a lengthy discussion of a proposed short-term rental ordinance with a recommendation to the Austin City Council on May 22. There were a number of people in the audience who spoke to the commission, including several from the Austin Rental Alliance, about the possible effects of the ordinance on their homes, neighborhoods and businesses.
"I understand that some homeowners don't want people in their community who are not full-time residents, but we cannot legislate who our neighbors are," audience member Cynthia Reynolds said.
A short-term rental is defined as a single-family residential structure rented for a period of between one and 30 consecutive days. The new use would be allowed in any single-family residential use zoning category, and anyone providing STRs would be required to register with the city.
Property owners of STRs would be required to pay a hotel occupancy tax (HOT), provide contact information to both the city and any renters, and accept liability for damages resulting from renters' actions, according to city documents. Renters would be required to comply with occupancy limits, noise restrictions, parking restrictions, prohibition of gatherings, trash collection schedules, and burn bans and watering restrictions,
Though the recommendation presented by staff limited homestead homes offering STRs to 90 days per year, the commissioners voted to add an amendment lifting that limitation if the property owner lives on-site more than 276 days per year.
Commercial STRs—or properties not occupied by an owner—spurred much more heated discussion, both from audience members and the commissioners themselves. Commercial STRs would be required to undergo an initial safety inspection prior to licensing and another inspection per subsequent three-year cycle.
The Austin Rental Alliance is a nonprofit trade organization that represents the interests of property owners, property managers, management companies and other interested parties. The organization requires all of its members to pay the appropriate HOT taxes and works to promote compliance with all other code requirements.
ARA members argued that excessive regulation would push STRs underground, cheating the city out of HOT taxes. City of Austin planning staff representative Robert Heil said regulation through the STR ordinance was not an appropriate way to address neighborhood concerns about nuisance violations.
"The issue is that nuisance behaviors are not necessarily tied to the duration of the lease," Heil said. "Bad behaviors exist and nuisance behaviors exist whether it's a short-term rental, a long-term rental or an owner-occupied building."
"Such business use is not legal land use under the land development code. It never has been, it should not be now, nor should it in the future," Austin Neighborhoods Council President Steven Aleman said.
Commission Parliamentarian Danette Chimenti said she thought STRs were a good way for homeowners to help pay for their properties when they lived on-site. She also said she knows there are good STR owners, and she empathized with property owners wanting to make money with their property, but she did not think commercial STRs were a good idea.
"I think it is a commercial use, and it doesn't have a place in single-family residential zoning," Chimenti said.
The ordinance would prohibit two commercial STRs from being within 1,000 feet of each other, something several of the commissioners said would be difficult to enforce.
In the end, the ordinance passed on a 6-0 vote, with commissioners Richard Hatfield, Alfonso Hernandez and Dave Anderson abstaining. The commissioners added three amendments to the ordinance to be sent on to the City Council for the final consideration.
One amendment would strip licensing of any STR receiving three or more verified confirmed violations. The second amendment lifted the limit on the number of days owner-occupied STRs could be rented from 90 per year, so long as the owner lived on-site for more than 276 days of the year. The third amendment took out the body of the portion of the ordinance dealing with non-conforming properties, allowing for grandfathering, and left only the heading as a placeholder for the council to work on.
The council will hold a public hearing on the issue May 24 and is expected to vote at the June 7 meeting.