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New Group Enters Short-Term Rental Debate; San Antonio Law May Be Overwritten

A new coalition of property rental businesses, travel sites and business trade organizations wants the Texas legislature to upend local ordinances around short-term rentals in lieu of one statewide law.

The years-old debate pits private property rights vs community concerns over the future of neighborhoods.

Texans for Property and Rental Rights formed this week and immediately threw its weight behindSenate Bill 1888 and House Bill 3778. The bills prevent cities from banning STRs and limits what cities can do about the properties often using Airbnb and Homeaway.

“I really believe the state needs to take a leadership role here. They need to enact a framework that is equitable and fair for everyone in the state,” said Jeff Means, chairman of the nonprofit’s board.

Means also runs Doves Rest Cabins, vacation rentals in the Texas Panhandle for which he uses Homeaway to rent.

He says vacation rentals like his generate a lot of economic activity in cities across Texas, and communities that overregulate or ban the practice are hurting that activity, degrading property rights and limiting tax collection. Homeaway is one of the backers of Texans for Property and Rental Rights.

“The biggest fear we have is people going underground. They’re still going to do it. Now they’re going to be breaking the law, and the state won’t realize the hotel tax off that,” Means said.

Airbnb, the largest company in the market, has done more than $542 million  in business in Texas since the comptroller started tracking it in May 2017. More than $32 million — or 6 percent — has gone into state coffers.

Means and short-term rental companies lauded San Antonio for its ordinance, which it spent the better part of two years forming. Despite the kudos, city staff said, due to density regulation differences, they oppose SB 1888 as written.

Currently the city regulates how close non-owner occupied rentals, or Type 2 rentals, can be to one another. No more than 12.5 percent of a block can be converted. SB 1888 says no more than 12.5 percent of residences across the city.

“You could still have neighborhoods overrun with short-term rentals,” said Jeff Coyle, director of intergovernmental affairs at the city.

Coyle was in Austin Monday connecting with lawmakers on the city’s legislative agenda, including on short-term rentals.

“We’re not opposed to a state law but do not want to undo the good work of stakeholders,” he said.

The STR fight is just the latest in the local control battles punctuating recent legislative sessions, with cities saying they know best and opposing lawmakers decrying a patchwork of local regulations.

“This is almost the perfect case for why you want the patchwork quilt of regulation,” said Bennett Sandlin, executive director of the Texas Municipal League, which advocates for cities, “because some cities literally are never going to want to regulate this, could care less. And yet you have Austin where you have whole neighborhoods partying until 4 in the morning and have a really strong reason to.”

According to AirDNA, a third-party website that collects data on Airbnb, Austin often has nearly a thousand more whole-house units for rent on the platform than Houston, despite being less than half the size.

Paul Flahive can be reached via email Paul@tpr.org or on Twitter @paulflahive.


Paul Flahive can be reached at Paul@tpr.org