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City Council May 'Wait And See' On Regulating San Antonio's Short-Term Rentals

Councilman William “Cruz” Shaw at a meeting in February.
Paul Flahive
Texas Public Radio
Councilman William “Cruz” Shaw at a meeting in February. Shaw said the city should wait until after the 2019 legislative session regulate short term rentals.";s:

After 18 months, the ordinance regulating homes listed on short-term rental websites like HomeAway and Airbnb has not been voted on. Now, at least four San Antonio City Council members prefer to wait until after next year’s legislative session to craft regulations.

The STR ordinance includes density, safety, and public marking regulations. Many worry the legislature will take up short-term rentals and — as they did with regulations around texting and driving, and those for ride-hailing app companies Uber and Lyft — kill local regulations.

“I do think the ‘wait and see’ approach is wise,” said Manny Pelaez, councilman for District 8, who is just one of at least four council members voicing concern.

Since the city started exploring the issue, a citizen-led task force spent eight months drawing up rules, city staff then presented it to a city board and commission, and three council hearings were held.

The ordinance is scheduled to be discussed at next week’s council briefing. It was originally scheduled for December and is the first full briefing on the topic since the city’s development services department was tasked with making revisions in April.

At that hearing, there was wide disagreement on the future of the regulations from council members. Pelaez went so far as to question the need for the regulation. That was before the Texas Supreme Court ruled in favor of a San Antonio homeowner in May. It ruled homeowners associations with deed restrictions and covenants mandating a property be used as a single-family use does not bar use as an STR.

This changed the conversation for San Antonio’s north side, where many communities are governed by HOA rules, that thought they were insulated from the issue. Since then, Pelaez’s northside constituents have called more often, but he still thinks regulating ahead of the legislative session is a bad idea.

“That will require the expenditure of resources on our part in order to get staffed up and put into place the infrastructure necessary to be able to enforce it,” he said. “It will get people (Airbnb hosts) working towards complying on this only to find out the legislature, on day one, is going to kill it.”

The 2017 legislature failed to pass bills that would have overridden local laws on STRs. The Texas Municipal League credited city lobbying. 

“I’d rather the city of San Antonio have a say on paper, at least, rather than have the state dictate how we regulate,” said District 3 Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran, pushing for a local ordinance ahead of the session. “I think we need to be bold.”

Credit Courtesy AirDNA
Screengrab of San Antonio active short term rentals September 2018.

District 2, east of downtown, has more than 225 active rentals on Airbnb, according to the third-party website AirDNA.

The area historically lacked investment and saw properties fall into disarray. But in recent years, the area has seen an increase in historic home rehabilitations and new builds. Some of that activity is due to investors taking advantage of STR platforms, said the District 2 Councilman William “Cruz” Shaw.

“This is a very creative and innovative way to change communities,” said Shaw, who also wants to wait for the legislature before passing regulations. “I don’t want to see us spinning our wheels and wasting taxpayer money and resources on something that gets thrown out next session.”

Waiting would mean adding as much as a year.

“I think we should be acting today on this issue,” said John Courage, councilman for District 9, “The longer it takes us, the more we’re going to have them springing up in these neighborhoods that we’re going to then have to grandfather.”

City staff has noted how difficult it will be to retroactively regulate the density of whole-home STRs. According to AirDNA, the greater San Antonio area has nearly 2,700 active rentals on Airbnb.

“Patience matters. We don’t need to be in a rush to overregulate,” said Greg Brockhouse, councilman for District 6. In a text, he said he would ask for the issue to be tabled after the next council hearing.

At Wednesday's briefing, city staff will present a new version of the ordinance that tried to strike a balance between the wishes of neighborhoods and the real estate and tech communities, and some believe may change minds on the issue.

"I believe after a briefing on the new draft we will have broad support," Mayor Ron Nirenberg said. "We tried to support new industries while protecting neighborhood interests."

Paul Flahive can be reached at paul@tpr.org or on Twitter @paulflahive

Paul Flahive can be reached at Paul@tpr.org and on Twitter at @paulflahive