Austin’s battle over short-term rentals moves to the Legislature


Highlights

Austin Mayor Steve Adler defends Austin’s regulations on short-term rentals to state lawmakers.

Council Member Ellen Troxclair testified against the city’s rules.

Bill would bar cities from banning short-term rentals and would allow only health and safety regulations.

Austin’s battle over regulation of short-term rental properties rages on — now in the Legislature, which is considering a measure to overturn Austin rental rules.

The proposed bill, from state Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, would bar local jurisdictions from prohibiting short-term rentals and allow jurisdictions to regulate them only for health and safety purposes.

The proposal brought Mayor Steve Adler and City Council Member Ellen Troxclair to the Capitol on Tuesday evening to speak on opposite sides of the issue in a public hearing before the Senate Business and Commerce Committee. Austin city policies put strict limits on capacity in such rentals and seek to phase out full-time, short-term rentals in neighborhoods by 2022.

To defend Austin’s rules, which include limits on the number of guests per house and the size of outdoor gatherings, Adler spoke of the difference between neighborhoods composed of full-time residents who know each other versus homes owned by outside investors who rent them full-time to tourists.

A neighbor might throw a big party on the weekend when his daughter gets married, but “my neighbor’s not going to do that very often — in part because he doesn’t have that many daughters,” Adler said.

Troxclair argued the other side, bemoaning her minority view on the City Council and accusing her colleagues of “choosing to punish the vast majority of responsible property owners.” Most complaints aren’t filed against such full-time rentals, she said.

Representatives of Galveston and Fort Worth also turned out, concerned that the bill could restrict their abilities to restrict signage and parking at rental properties, as well as the proportion of short-term rental homes in neighborhoods.

Justin Bragiel, representative of the Texas Hotel & Lodging Association, argued the proposed bill gives special treatment to short-term rentals to operate within residential areas when other businesses cannot.

“Make no mistake, this is a business,” he said.

Several Austinites turned out with tales of rental issues in their neighborhoods. Mike Polston said he learned what a short-term rental was when two houses in his neighborhood, with the same owner, became rentals that sleep 20-30 people and are rented every week. Joe Reynolds recounted a house in his neighborhood being rented to moviemakers who staged a nighttime gunfight in the street.

“One resident’s rights should not outweigh another,” he said.

But rental owners largely argued that they are good people who manage their properties responsibly and that bad actors are the exception. Other proponents of the bill called Austin’s enforcement powers, which allow code inspectors to enter properties without a warrant, “kind of creepy.”

Mary Owens, who owns five rental properties within a mile of her home, noted that the city code didn’t address short-term rentals at all until a few years ago.

Few of the full-time, short-term rentals actually registered, she said, and then the city changed the rules to eliminate them.

“The city of Austin made something legal and allowed me to register for something and allowed me to invest millions— millions of dollars — in real estate for a specific purpose, and then changed their mind and decided to revoke my permit,” she said. “I’ve done nothing wrong.”



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