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How Many Austinites Will Register Their Short-Term Rentals Before SXSW?

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City of Austin

South by Southwest is coming up. That means a crush of visitors and extra cash in the pockets of people renting space to those visitors.  But the City of Austin has a message for potential short-term landlords: You've got to register your home by Feb. 28th if you hope to rent the space legally.

"Before every major event we see a number of applicants that come into our office," says Marcus Elliot with the Austin Code Department. "They're really interested in that last-minute rush to try to get the license." 

When the city started registering short-term rentals a few years ago, hardly anybody signed up. Elliot says, with 1,266 active short term licenses, the program has come a long way.

But a quick online search shows there are still more spaces for rent around Austin than spaces registered.  When the code department finds someone renting without a permit, officials write a letter asking them to register.  If that doesn’t work, more letters follow before the department writes a citation or files charges. 

Elliot says licensing is pretty simple.   To register you need to be insured, you need to pay a $285 fee, the city needs to make sure the space is suitable to live in, and you need to pay city tax on your earnings.  

But there's another big reason why a property owner would not sign up: There are caps on the number of certain types of short-term rentals allowed in different parts of town.  

The system was put into place to assure people that their neighborhoods will not be overwhelmed by rentals. Currently, non owner-occupied short-term rental units (those are houses where the owner doesn't live, but wants to rent out the space short-term) are capped at three percent of residential units within a census tract. 

“There are certain areas of Austin that reached their cap. Basically within the first couple of months when the programs started around 2012," says Elliot.

The city knows of about 200 property owners renting without a permit right now. Elliot says some of them –though he doesn’t know the exact number – rent in areas where there are simply no more permits available. 

The city keeps a map online showing what parts have hit their cap for non-owner occupied rentals.  If you're interested in registering to rent short-term, the city says you have until the end of the month if you hope to have a permit by the time visitors roll into town for South By.  

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