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Over protests, Council OKs additional study on short-term rentals

Friday, January 13, 2012 by Elizabeth Pagano

Despite protests by neighborhood advocates, who worried that additional review could slow the process, City Council voted Thursday to move forward with a study of the impact of short-term rentals in the Austin area.


According to the resolution, the city auditor would follow up on an audit of hotel occupancy taxes from short-term rentals and perform a review and analysis of the number and general locations of short-term rentals. This review will include information on both resident rental owners and non-resident landlords.


The city auditor will also review and compile 311 and 911 calls for service, and police and code compliance citations issued at short-term rentals, and compare these rates to those of the neighborhood in general.


The resolution passed 5-2, with Council Members Laura Morrison and Kathie Tovo voting against. Tovo and Morrison supported a substitute motion that would have limited the geographic scope of the study.


Tovo’s initial motion suggest a study restricted to the northern part of the 78704 zip code – basically the Bouldin, Travis Heights and Zilker neighborhoods – to address the “clustering” of short-term rentals that were the real problem.


“When you take a look at a map that shows where all of these are, at least the ones we know about, they are really clustered within a three-mile radius of downtown. Zilker is gutted. It’s gutted,” short-term rental opponent Maurice Anderson told In Fact Daily. Anderson identified himself as the chairman of the Short Term Rentals committee of the Allandale Neighborhood Association.


Council Member Mike Martinez voted for the larger study, saying he was supportive of both neighborhoods and owners of short-term rentals.


Talking about a conversation with short-term rental opponents in his office, Martinez said, “The example that was brought forward was that ‘We don’t know who these folks are. We don’t know if they are drug users, drug dealers, or sex offenders’,” said Martinez. “So I did a little research, and in the zip code that I happen to live in (78723), there are 144 registered sex offenders. In 78704, there’s 39, but we don’t have a resolution before us dealing with that issue. And we don’t have a study before us addressing those concerns.”


“There are less than five short-term rentals in the zip code I happen to live in, ’23. It’s not coincidental,” said Martinez. “I firmly believe this is an important issue. In fact, I know it is. But I just want to put some context to it.”


City Council opted for a more comprehensive study, which is estimated to take about 30 days longer than the limited study. Unlike the more focused study, it will produce a valid statistical sample.


On Nov. 30, the Austin Neighborhoods Council voted 22-3-8 to adopt a resolution about short term rentals. The resolution supports a maximum of 60 days per year of short term rental for homesteaded properties, and opposes short-term rentals of less than 30 consecutive days in single-family neighborhoods.


Anderson told In Fact Daily that his “sleepy little street” had been transformed by the short-term rental property across the street, which he says has hosted more than 500 people in the past 14 months.


“Motorcycles, for the motorcycle rally, hot rod people for the hot rod rally, bachelorettes from Dallas, for a stag party. A policeman I know went to the house to tell them to cool their jets, and they thought he was the stripper,” said Anderson. “My wife is looking at houses to buy, she wants to move. I said, ‘Honey, there is no way we can get away from this. Somebody can buy the house across the street from our new house, and set up the same thing’.”


Council Member Bill Spelman spoke to In Fact Daily about the reason for the resolution, saying, “As far as I can tell, we still don’t know how many short-term rental properties there are, how many of those are commercial short-term rentals, as opposed to owner-occupied short-term rentals, we don’t know where they are located, and we don’t know the extent to which they contribute, if at all, to public health, safety, and welfare problems.


“Seems to me, that if we are going to try and solve a problem, we ought to know something about how big the problem is, where the problem is, and what the problem is. We don’t know that yet,” said Spelman. “I would like to have a much clearer resolution as to what the problem actually looks like before we try and solve it.”     


Initial concerns that the study would stop ongoing work on the code amendment process were assuaged after Spelman changed his wording to clarify that only final action would await the outcome of the study. The Planning Commission is scheduled to make their recommendation on short-term rentals at their next meeting, but they have the option of postponing the item as well. City Council hopes to vote on the matter in April.


A code amendment is likely to override a previous interpretation by the Board of Adjustment which ruled rentals shorter than 10 days to be “transient,” and therefore illegal under current code for single-family homes.


Jerry Rusthoven told In Fact Daily that ruling provoked a lawsuit by short-term rental owners, which is currently on hold. “Those people want to see what comes out of this process. Because if this process shakes out with something they are OK with, they will just drop the lawsuit,” said Rusthoven.

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