Deadline Looms For Legislature's Ban on Airbnb Bans
Mavis, a Chihuahua mix, yelps with her tiny dog tags constantly tinkling together as she moves frenetically. She is sort of a mascot for owner Charlotte Jorgensen's Airbnb rental.
"A lot of people love that she is here," says Jorgensen snapping at her dog to get off their guest.
Jorgensen's small, stone cottage in Olmos Park Terrace was built in the 1940s, and she and her husband rent the apartment above their detached, converted garage.
On-site laundry is in the bottom portion of the former garage. Jorgensen says the machines are running often.
For years, the Jorgensens rented it as a long-term apartment. Three years ago they converted to Airbnb after talking to friends in other parts of the country.
"It just made more sense for us to rent through Airbnb," says Jorgensen, lauding the flexibility of Airbnb, and of course the extra revenue. She says they can make nearly three times as much as they did when it was an apartment.
Something she calls vital last year when her husband got sick.
"It really has been a blessing for us. My husband was very sick last year and off work for about six months. And so it closes that gap between living paycheck to paycheck," Jorgensen says. It's even paid the mortgage when she needed it to.
Jorgensen testified at the Texas Capitol in favor of statewide regulations for short-term rentals saying cities should not be allowed to ban their availability through websites like VRBO, Homeaway, Flipkey, and Airbnb.
Christopher Price is president of the King William Neighborhood Association, and he thinks it is wrong for the state to get involved in neighborhood issues.
"I think generally these issues is generally better dealt with at the local level," Price says noting that community buy-in on these regulations will come from community involvement. He points to San Antonio's task force dealing with short-term rentals.
The King William neighborhood, with its popular bars and restaurants, currently has several units listed on Airbnb, and the Neighborhood Association hasn't taken a position on whether or not that is a good thing. But Price does worry that without out some regulation investors could sweep into areas like King William, trying to capitalize on its popularity and flipping the housing stock from residential to short-term rentals.
"What you could end up doing is losing the residential or neighborhood character of the community," Price says.
This is a common complaint about how short-term rentals impact neighborhoods in New York City and New Orleans. Questions about affordable housing stock, preservation, and private property rights abound in the debate.
With its 900 Airbnb hosts, San Antonio has not experienced investors buying up properties to rent to tourists, and council districts say they receive more calls of support for short-term rentals than complaints about them.
Up the road, Austin has around 6000 short-term rentals. Pushback from neighbors complaining about noise and partying visitors led that city to cap the short term rental market at 3 percent of a neighborhood in 2012. They recently passed a ban on new Type 2 or whole house rentals. Austin is in an ongoing legal fight over the ban.
"When the desire to have local control impedes upon personal property rights, I think that has to be a concern as well and needs to be balanced," says North-Richland Hill State Senator Kelly Hancock. He authored the current bill SB 451 to keep municipalities from banning short-term rentals.
He says his bill still provides plenty of regulatory oversight for cities. Things like safety, parking, noise and nuisance regulations still fall under a city's jurisdiction.
He doesn't see a neighborhood's changing character as being an issue.
"As long as they meet the noise obligations, the parking obligations and every other one, I'm not sure why that is an issue. The cities are getting property taxes from those individuals," Hancock says.
Hancock disputes the idea that Airbnb properties are hotels or commercial entities, though they are paying state and city hotel occupancy taxes.
For its part, Airbnb says it just wants the chance to work with cities to craft ordinances that are fair and not be banned outright.
If the statewide legislation fails, Charlotte Jorgensen says she'll refocus her efforts on the city's task force to find a fair balance between short-term rental hosts and neighborhoods. When asked about other city's ordinances, like Denver, where homeowners are only allowed to rent their primary residence, Jorgensen saw some promise.
"I'm not sure it needs to be that black and white, but I certainly think there should be a limitation in how many short-term rentals somebody owns," Jorgensen says.
Ultimately, she wants rules that conform to the image these short-term rental companies are trying to project, one of people renting a spare room for extra cash, rather than big investors looking to cash in.
The bill has to make it through committee, where its companion bill died, by late this week to meet a Sunday deadline.