Austin
4:06 pm
Thu August 2, 2012

Welcome to Texas: Meet KUT's Newest International Reporter

Bettina Meier will spend the next two months in Austin as part of the Arthur Burns Fellowship. The program sends American reporters to Germany and German reporters to the United States.

This is KUT's second Burns Fellow to visit. The previous German visitor, Nichole Markwald, told Meier she should go to Austin and work at KUT. While trying to find a place to live, she stumbled across a connection between Austin and her home in Berlin.

My biggest problem before coming here was finding a place to live. So I stumbled over the issue of short-term rentals in Austin. I found that renting a place for longer than 30 days is more accepted, so I ended up renting a garage apartment from an Austin-native outside the downtown area.

Short-term rentals in Berlin have been an ongoing problem, particularly in my district -- close to the Brandenburg Gate -- where hotel prices rise during the summer. The problem became pronounced when tourists started renting out apartments in central residential areas, especially in the former eastern part of Berlin, where people live in large concrete apartment buildings.

Your neighbors are just a doorstep away and you can hear everything going on around you. Once, the police pulled 32 people out of a two-bedroom apartment where a party was going on. This is not uncommon and parties in Berlin usually start around midnight and can last until the early morning, even during the workweek.

How to solve a problem like that in a city whose popularity is growing and is trying to remain friendly to tourists? While Austin's City Council is struggling to find a solution, it might consider looking to Berlin for answers.

In Berlin, short-term rentals are legal as long as you declare the income in your tax declaration. City agents will visit you if they suspect you own a short-term rental but aren't paying taxes. Tax violations could result in a big fine or even prison sentence. So the city benefits from the rising tax income, and Berliners have accepted it because after a while of spreading all over the city, short-term rentals have tended to stay in certain central areas that had a big club scene and were already loud.

In other residential areas, residents, restaurant owners and short-term housing agencies have been able to compromise. Shops that sell beer to tourists or restaurants that are based in residential buildings make sure to ask their guests to move inside when it gets late. More residential housing has been constructed, because the popularity of Berlin attracted people who came as tourists and wanted to stay to find a job. It has brought more development to areas that were deserted. A vibrant club scene has formed underground that helps reduce noise on the street level, and some houses or empty factory buildings have become small hotels that keep the tourists separated from the doorsteps of residents.

Overall, Berlin has learned to live with short-term rentals and now regards them as a welcome addition to the tourist scene. You could even live with a Berliner for a few weeks, just to get to know a local. But finding solutions was a long process and it involved people talking to each other and working out compromises. In Austin, the talking has just begun.