The latest round of Austin’s short-term rental debate stretched into the wee hours of Friday morning, concluding with no City Council vote on the slate of revised rules.
“I don’t think any of us are in any shape to deliberate,” Council Member Kathie Tovo said after 2 a.m.
The council began taking public comment on the issue around 11 p.m. Thursday, and the testimony lasted nearly three hours, even though many who signed up to speak left early.
The council, which spent 33.5 hours over various meetings last year debating short-term rentals, plans to pick up deliberations at a special meeting Feb. 23.
The long-debated revisions to Austin’s short-term rental rules include a proposal to phase out all “Type 2” units in residential areas by 2022. Such rentals consist of entire homes that are leased for less than 30 days at a time, without the owner staying on site — giving rise to what some neighbors have described as rowdy party houses in the heart of a neighborhood.
The proposed revisions would also create a minimum distance between short-term rentals, impose occupancy limits, prohibit advertising without a license and give code officials the authority to inspect properties, levy fines and suspend licenses for repeat violations.
Palmer Carani lives next door to a five-bedroom house, advertised on Airbnb to sleep 12. She said the property has received more than 40 complaints to the city’s 311 line, but the code department hasn’t been able to enforce the existing occupancy limits.
“Everyone is profiting from my neighborhood,” Carani said. “But the cost to city, the neighborhood, is enormous.”
There are more than 400 registered Type 2 short-term rentals in Austin. They are often rented to a succession of guests throughout the year. The proposal to phase them out of neighborhoods would still allowed them to operate in commercial areas.
Those who support the amendments said short-term rentals are robbing Austin residents of valuable homes, setting up “mini hotels” in residential areas that might otherwise belong to families.
However, rental owners, many represented by the Austin Rental Alliance, said these properties provide essential housing to traveling musicians, students, families and residents transitioning between homes.
“I choose to use my asset to help make ends meet,” said Susan Sorez, who recently hosted a family that traveled to Austin for a funeral. “I encourage you to recognize those of us who continue to be good actors.”
Many were surprised when the Planning Commission recommended a total ban on Type 2 properties in December. Vacation rental sites like HomeAway stated the change would drive Austin’s rental market underground. They said what started as an attempt to police the market has turned into an effort to diminish it altogether.
“The lack of understanding, the lack of transparency we have experienced in our hometown has been demoralizing,” Tom Hale, chief operating officer of HomeAway, said at the meeting. “The city we love has turned a cold shoulder to us.”
When the short-term rental ordinance was first passed in 2012, it was lauded by the U.S. Council of Mayors and called a model for other cities.
Yet some neighbors’ complaints about noise, parking and overcrowding, particularly from residents in Northwest Hills, prompted Council Member Sheri Gallo last summer to bring a resolution directing the city manager to make recommendations on how to improve the ordinance or step up its enforcement.
The city’s code office instituted a pilot program called PACE last July, sending patrols out on weekends to inspect short-term rental properties and search online for advertisements by unlicensed homes. In November, the council approved a one-year ban on all new short-term rental applications for Type 2 units.
Some say code enforcement is beginning to make a dent in the problem, but others still have their doubts.
“We can’t enforce what we have on the books now,” David King of the Austin Neighborhoods Council said at the meeting. “It was a failed experiment, and let’s get rid of them.”