Limited Enforcement Complicates Rental Situation
By Era Sundar
As of this month, all short-term rentals now have to be registered with the city, but the city says only four had been registered by Thursday.
The registration requirement includes properties listed on websites like Home Away and Craigslist, as well as properties rented by realtors, or directly by owners. This weekend’s ACL festival is a popular time to rent.
So is the city out looking for STRs that have been rented for ACL? Not directly, says Matthew Christianson. He’s with the city’s code compliance department. That’s because Austin doesn’t yet have inspectors in the field to look for people breaking the new laws. So the city’s using a back-door method to catch violators — they’re looking for code violations. The city has plenty of code inspectors.
“We are, however, looking at Craigslist, the newspaper, the Web and identifying where the STR’s are in Austin,” Christianson said. “And as we’re going through those, if we see a potentially dangerous condition then we would self-generate and certainly go out to investigate.”
Part of the problem is that many rental property owners are unhappy with the new $476 registration fees, says Emily Chenevert with the Austin Board of Realtors.
“We believe that the fees that have been prescribed as part of the rules are very exorbitant,” Chenevert said, “both for the non-owner occupied but especially for the type one homeowners who just want to rent their house for ACL or Formula One.”
Adding to the problems is that some homeowners find themselves in a sort of no-man’s-land where they can’t register even if they want to. Non-owner occupied properties that were not being operated as short-term rentals before June 13, 2011, are not eligible to register until January of next year. But they’re not allowed to rent their properties, either, even if they already had a rental agreement in place, says local attorney Racy Haddad.
“Because there’s a city ordinance in place,” Haddad said, “it sort of trumps the contractual agreement in a way, whereby the homeowner can then look to the ordinance and state, ‘I would be in violation of an ordinance if I were to fully execute this contract.’ ”
With Austin’s next big short-term rental opportunity — Formula One — only five weeks away, both rental property owners, and the city, have a lot to work out.