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City to temporarily strengthen STR enforcement

Wednesday, July 1, 2015 by Elizabeth Pagano

This month, the city will launch a pilot program for enhanced code enforcement for short-term rentals. The stepped-up enforcement is a response to increased complaints about short-term rentals and growing concerns about their regulation.

During the pilot program, members of Austin Code, Police and Fire departments will team up with Austin 3-1-1 to perform “proactive inspections” of STRs from 10 p.m. until 4 a.m on Fridays and Saturdays in July, starting July 4. According to a press release about the program, “In addition to spot inspections, the team will respond to complaints received and inspect known ‘trouble’ properties.”

“We’re not talking like 10 people in a backyard type of nuisance. We’re talking like hundreds of people and a live band kind of nuisance,” said Jacqueline Ballone, a public information officer for the Austin Code Department. “We’re not targeting anybody, but we do have an influx of certain properties that have thrown these crazy parties. Those we are definitely going to take a look at.

“We really responded to the community on this – because the community has asked for more enforcement,” said Ballone. “If people see these things in the community and are concerned, they can call 311, and we’ll be able to go immediately out and respond.”

Ballone encouraged people to call 311 if they saw things like over-occupancy, noise disturbances and illegal parking. She said that, during the pilot program, when people call 311 about another property, the operator will ask if they know whether it is an STR. If they say yes, “that’s where we are going to come into play,” she said.

“Gee, it’s about time,” said Austin Neighborhoods Council president Mary Ingle. “Code … they seem to have difficulty doing effective work. And I don’t know why. I have been working with them for a very long time. Hope springs eternal on STRs, but I am not going to hold my breath.”

Ingle said that, in the past, people have called in with STR complaints that weren’t recorded, and they worried that the complaint system through 311 wasn’t working. Additionally, she pointed out that the city has yet to suspend a short-term rental license, and hopes that whatever is keeping effective enforcement from occurring is resolved.

“I want Code to succeed, but I haven’t seen any evidence of it,” said Ingle.

City Council passed a short-term rental ordinance in 2012 after extended public debate. Last year, an audit found many problems with enforcement in the city. The pilot enforcement program will focus on licensed STRs operating in violation of city codes, though any unlicensed STRs found along the way will also be noted.

City staff will share the results of the increased enforcement with Council and the public in August, following the conclusion of the pilot program. At that time, said Ballone, they are going to assess how to best proceed with enforcement and determine what might need to be changed in the STR ordinance, which she said “just really has some loopholes.”

“The point is that those who have STRs and those who have lived here for years and years and don’t have STRs all can live in harmony, safely, and everyone can enjoy the city,” said Ballone.

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