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Austin Homeowners, Hotel Industry Spar Over City’s STR Ordinance

Miguel Gutierrez Jr.
The City of Austin continues to debate how short-term rentals (like those on airbnb) should be regulated.

Austin is facing legal action over its rules governing short-term rentals, like those you’d find on sites like Airbnb and Homeaway. But some in the hospitality industry say those rentals should have to follow the same rules. The two sides sparred over the issue in a debate Thursday.

Last month, a group of homeowners and renters sued the City of Austin over its effort to regulate short-term rental units, or STRs. They’re being represented by attorneys with the Texas Public Policy Foundation, a conservative think tank which hosted a debate Thursday on the ordinance.

Attorney Chance Weldon with the foundation argued the ordinance goes too far. Weldon referred to the Austin City Council’s new regulations for Type 2 STRs, which are not owner-occupied. He claims there are several problems with the ordinance, from a cap on the number of occupants to a 10 p.m. curfew.

“They’ve decided to carpet-bomb people’s constitutional rights and, in fact, ban Type 2s altogether,” Weldon said.

The city council has adopted a plan to phase out these types of rentals completely by the year 2022. Those who support the ordinance say it would cut down on noise and traffic that neighbors say short-term rentals often bring to their areas. Sloan Dean is with Ashford, a real estate trust that invests in the hospitality industry. He said Type 2 STRs are able to skirt the rules that hotels have to abide by, like complying with the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“We’re not against families wanting to rent out extra rooms, et cetera,” Dean said. “What we are [against] is people buying residential property, not complying with ADA, not complying with health and safety regulations and then renting those out.”

But Weldon maintains that STRs do not operate in the same way as hotels.

“These are people that are staying sometimes for a week, sometimes for two weeks in a residential home using it for residential reasons,” Weldon said. “They’re eating dinner there, they’re having friends and family over there. This is not a commercial use.”

The City of Austin issued a statement last month acknowledging the lawsuit, writing, “The city’s lawyers are prepared to defend the ordinance in court.”

A spokesman for the city said they have no additional comment on the suit.

This story was produced as part of KUT's partnership with the Austin Monitor.

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