Gilcrease: Crusade against short term rentals is misinformed

There have been assertions made about short-term rentals that are completely and demonstrably false.

An audit by the city of Austin revealed that short-term rentals produce lower incidents of code violations, 311, and 911 calls than other comparable types of residential property like long-term rentals and homeowner-occupied homes. The suggestion that short-term rentals have greater code compliance problems is not backed up by data.

A recent comprehensive public information request, the release of which was ordered by the Attorney General, revealed that there are only 12 problem short-term rental property owners in all of Austin:

  • Seven were Type 1, meaning the owner lives in the home.
  • Four were Type 2, where the owner does not live on the property.
  • One was a Type 3 short-term rental, a unit on a multifamily property.

There was a recent survey done by Littlefield Consulting showing that 69 percent of Austinites support short-term rentals and believe that the current short-term rental regulations are just right or are already too strict.

Some have asserted that short-term rentals negatively affect school enrollment in Austin. However, a study from the Austin school district declared the opposite — that there was no effect on school enrollment.

Some have claimed that short-term rentals negatively affect affordability. However, a study conducted by the city of Austin concluded that there was no effect on affordability.

Some have claimed there are thousands of short-term rentals in Austin removing housing stock from the city. However, short-term rentals are housing stock. The vast majority of Type 2 rentals are available for long-term tenants as well as short-term. I have had the same family in my Type 2 short-term rental for the last six months. No other housing types allow that same flexibility for families, and hotels usually don’t provide kitchens for longer stays.

Also, there are currently only 361 Type 2 licensed short-term rentals in all of Austin. Code enforcement has estimated that most Type 2 short-term rentals are registered and compliant in Austin. Austin has one of the highest rates of registration and compliance in the country. A City of Austin short-term rental audit found 337 Type 2 short-term rentals in 2012 showing there has not been a large increase in short-term rentals over the last several years.

Other short-term rentals in Austin are homeowners renting their primary home or rooms for festivals or weekends for additional money. AirBnB’s director of government relations says that more than 90 percent of their clients are owner-occupied. Type 2 short-term rentals are limited to only 3 percent of the number of houses per census tract, guaranteeing that there can never be many Type 2 short-term rentals in any given area.

Some have claimed that short-term rentals are a commercial use, but Austin’s Planning and Development Review Department declared definitively that the use is residential. The memo states: “The practice of renting out a house, or portion of a house for a short period of time is an established practice in Austin.”

Additionally, the Third Circuit Appeals Court in Austin — a Travis County court — and five State Supreme Courts plus an additional four Appeals Courts have also ruled conclusively that a short-term rental is a residential use . Short-term rentals are not a commercial use of property any more than long-term rentals are. They are generating income as a rental property the same way that someone would by renting their property on a long-term basis. The length of the lease does not change the character of the home or its residential use.

The proposed changes to the existing ordinance accomplish nothing regarding shutting down bad actors; instead the changes would punish the vast majority of law-abiding property owners. Code enforcement already has the ability to shut down or remove the licenses from the few problem short-term rentals — they simply need to do their job. Having a party for 30 people, hosting a wedding, or hosting a corporate event at a private home, is a commercial use and is currently illegal. Bans do not work with short-term rentals any more than they did with prohibition. Only fair, easy-to-follow regulations with consequences for bad actors will be effective over time in gaining the highest levels of compliance.

Short-term rentals benefit our neighborhoods by providing a convenient place for Austinites to stay in their own neighborhoods during remodels or between selling and buying a home. It also allows temporary housing for new Austinites relocating to Austin and provides housing for your visiting families while allowing homeowners the ability to make additional income in order to help pay their increasing property taxes so they can continue to live in the Austin homes that they love.

Gilcrease is the current chairman of the neighborhood association, Friends of Hyde Park, a founding member of Friends of Austin Neighborhoods and a former chairman of the Hyde Park Neighborhood Planning Contact Team.

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