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Few homes registered for short-term rentals as SXSW nears

Wednesday, February 27, 2013 by Michael Kanin

With the busy lodging season of South-by-Southwest fast approaching, city officials report that only 200 short-term rental properties have completed the new registration process enacted in 2012 for such facilities. City officials put the total number of those properties between 600 and 1500.


Now, for the second time since the original set of short-term rental regulations was passed in August 2012, Council members are poised to make a set of corrections to the ordinance. If approved Thursday, the amendments would, in the words of lead sponsor Council Member Bill Spelman “streamline” the process.


A resolution sponsored by Spelman, Council Member Chris Riley, and Mayor Lee Leffingwell would, among other items, allow owner-occupied facilities to rent only one room of a home on a short-term basis, allow for electronic notifications and payments as part of the short-term rental registration process, and change the notification process to mandate that only the heads of neighborhood associations be informed of a short-term rental property.


Council Member Laura Morrison worried that electronic notifications for some neighborhoods would be “much more effective in some areas than others.”


“That puts those other areas and the people living in those other areas at a disadvantage,” Morrison continued.


Council members signed off on new short-term rental regulations after two years’ worth of debate with a 5-2 vote back in August. Morrison and Council Member Kathie Tovo provided the ‘nays.’ (See In Fact Daily, Aug. 3, 2012.)


In October, Council members returned to slash fees and clear the way for other changes in what was then a two-month-old policy. Morrison and Tovo again provided the only two negative tallies.


At the time, Tovo pushed for the higher fees originally approved by she and her colleagues. Morrison wondered if the Council was taking the input of all stakeholders into account, and expressed further concern about what she felt were shortcuts in the process. (See In Fact Daily, Oct. 19, 2012.)   


The renewed debate comes on the heels of a six-page memo from city Planning and Development Review Department Director Greg Guernsey and Code Compliance head Carl Smart, a product of Council requests to return with further evaluations of the ordinance.


In it, Guernsey and Smart call for a number of additional updates. They feature much of what would make its way into Spelman’s resolution.


Spelman told In Fact Daily that the changes would be beneficial. “There’s a minimum of 600 short-term rentals out there, there may be more,” he said. “If only 200 of them are registered that means we are far short of getting universal registration.”


He argued that “universal or near-universal” registration is “very much in the best interest in the neighborhoods and the city in the short-run, the hotel industry in the short-run, and the (short-term rental) business in the long run.”


Spelman continued that with better registration figures neighborhoods “would know who to contact if there is a complaint that can be dealt with locally” – a subset that he argued would include “the vast, vast majority of them.” He said that they would benefit the city “because we can keep an eye on them, make sure that they are associated with regulations and we can collect the bed taxes.”


As for the lodging industry, Spelman suggested that, with better registration, they would “not be giving an unfair advantage away to (short-term rentals).”


He then concluded with an assertion that higher registration figures would also be in the best interests of the short-term rental operators themselves. “The sooner we get universal registration, the sooner we can demonstrate what I’m almost certain we will be able to demonstrate,” Spelman said. “The vast majority of (short-term rental operations) are good actors who are good for neighborhoods, and the sooner that they’re going to get better acceptance with their neighbors.”


“The way to get universal registration is to make it quick, simple, and inexpensive,” Spelman added. “We have not made it quick, we have not made it simple, we have not made it inexpensive – quite the opposite – which is why we’ve only got 200 out of a minimum of 600.”

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