Austin's short term rental ordinance burdens residents

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Photo Credit: Chelsea Purgahn | Daily Texan Staff

During SXSW, many Austinites rented out their rooms to welcome the city’s eager and excited visitors. In the last two weeks, HomeAway,a service that connects hosts with renters, were 95 percent booked in Austin. The amount of hosts who actually followed the city’s short term rental (STR) ordinance is unknown and impossible to survey. My guess is: not a lot. The ordinance is so ludicrous that it makes the renting process difficult and unfair.

Some of the ordinance’s ridiculous rules include essentially doing nothing other than sleeping between 10:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m. and having no more than “ten adults at any one time, unless a stricter limit applies.” Which is immediately followed by the stricter law: no more than “six unrelated adults.” By the night, you must kick out two more people because only four people can stay in an STR with a maximum of “two adults per bedroom” between 10:00 p.m. and 7:00 a.m. As it sounds, it’s clearly not a reasonable ordinance — rather a draconian one that snatches people’s freedom. And as one would expect, the city has been sued for violating STR owner’s constitutional rights.

As if this wasn’t enough of a deterrence for people to forget about STR as an option, the Austin ordinance has divided STRs into three types and each has a separate set of rules and application process to acquire a mandatory renting license. In order, they are: owner-occupied properties, not owner-occupied single-family or duplex properties, and not owner-occupied multi-family properties such as apartments and condos. The city had decided to phase out the type 2 STRs and is already not accepting application for it.

Although they have established all these rules for STRs, it seems impossible to implement. There is no good way to figure out if a person is sleeping at the curfew or having a movie night with friends. And there is no real way to find out if the owners are living at one of their properties or are gone out for a vacation to Hawaii. These rules are just pushing STRs underground.

To stop cities like Austin from making such ordinances, State Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, proposed Senate Bill 541 that restricts cities from enforcing many special regulations on STRs. While the proposed bill is a bit too restrictive as it does not let a city regulate STRs as per the needs of its neighborhoods, it is fairer than Austin’s ordinance. But there needs to be a provision in the bill that talks about STRs turning into full-time businesses in peaceful neighborhoods, which will run down the property rates.

The Austin ordinance on STRs needs a change. Even though SB 541 would be a better replacement, and it includes provisions to set regulations on noise pollution and property maintenance, the state should not restrict its cities so much that a city cannot even regulate the needs of its neighborhoods. Either this bill needs to let the city regulate themselves a little more or the city ordinance needs to deregulate to become more like the bill.

Batra is computer science and rhetoric and writing junior from New Delhi. She is a columnist.