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Ethics complaint filed against Council Member Renteria

Thursday, March 17, 2016 by Jack Craver

The owner of a short-term rental business has filed an ethics complaint against City Council Member Pio Renteria, alleging that he violated city conflict-of-interest rules by pushing for an ordinance approved last month that will eventually phase out short-term rental units in Austin that are not owner-occupied, otherwise known as Type 2 STRs.

Thomas J. Clark, CEO of TurnKey Vacation Rentals, argues in the complaint he filed last month with the city’s Ethics Review Commission that Renteria’s ownership of a Type 1 STR unit – meaning it is owner-occupied – presented a clear conflict of interest.

“It really is a direct conflict for him to be ruling on and advocating against Type 2s,” Clark told the Austin Monitor on Tuesday. “If he remained an active operator for a Type 1, that helps him.”

The Ethics Review Commission was scheduled to hold a preliminary hearing on the matter during its March 9 meeting but postponed it until its next meeting, on April 13, because Renteria was out of town at a conference. Renteria was unavailable for comment Tuesday, but spokesman Nick Solorzano said that the Council member intended to show up and contest the complaint.

The property in question is a one-bedroom home that has been listed by Renteria and his wife, Lori, on popular STR site Airbnb since January 2012. At one point, at least, the couple marketed the home to South by Southwest visitors. “SXSW Cottage – Smoking allowed!” said the listing.

Clark also alleges in his complaint that Renteria did not register the STR until 2014 and therefore did not pay the required fees and taxes during the two previous years of operation.

Clark filed the original complaint on Feb. 18, five days before Council voted 9-2 to adopt the short-term rental ordinance. At the time, Clark contended that Renteria’s public advocacy on the issue in the months prior to the ordinance’s adoption were a violation of the city’s ethics ordinance.

Not only did Renteria vote to adopt the final ordinance on Feb. 23 that phased out Type 2 STRs, but during the discussion that day, he voted to kill an amendment to an ordinance proposed by Mayor Steve Adler that would have prevented a total phase-out. Adler’s amendment failed, 5-6. Had Renteria recused himself from the vote, the amendment still would have failed, since it needed a majority to pass.

But Clark argues that Renteria’s participation still influenced the outcome. “I think the vote should be voided,” he said. “He skewed the entire process, and I think they should start over.”

Solorzano said Renteria had rented out his property on only a few occasions in order to make enough money to pay increasingly high property taxes. He has not rented out the property since March 2015, before the debate over STRs began, and he does not intend to do so again, said Solorzano.

“It was never a money-making thing for him – it was just to pay his taxes,” he said. “He does not intend to use it that way anymore.”

Solorzano added that he was confident the commission would understand that. “We think it’s pretty open and shut,” he said about the complaint.

Solorzano declined to comment on whether Renteria may have violated city ordinance by operating the STR between 2012 and 2014 without a license, saying he was unfamiliar with the details of his boss’s rental history.

Photo by cincy Project made available through a Creative Commons license.

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