Austin city auditor to study short-term rental homes

By Juan Castillo

AMERICAN-STATESMAN STAFF

Published: 7:55 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 12, 2012

After a discussion lasting about three hours Thursday, the Austin City Council voted 5-2 to have the city auditor delve into the contentious issue of short-term rental homes and their effect on residential areas citywide.

Council Members Kathie Tovo and Laura Morrison voted against Council Member Bill Spelman’s proposal. An amendment by Tovo and seconded by Morrison to reduce the geographical scope of the auditor’s study, partly in the interest of time, failed on a 5-2 vote.

Since mid-2010, the city has been studying short-term rentals with the goal of writing proposed new rules for them. The city’s review has convened meetings with opponents, who say short-term rentals are illegal, a nuisance and incompatible with neighborhoods, and their defenders, who say they fill an important need, draw revenue to the city and have been unfairly depicted by opponents.

A proposed draft ordinance is scheduled to go before the city Planning Commission on Jan. 24.

With the council’s decision, City Auditor Ken Mory’s office will attempt to determine how many short-term rental homes exist and their locations, to compile the number of 311 and 911 calls and police and code compliance citations issued at short-term rental homes in 2011, and compare results with the number and types of citations for the neighborhood in general.

He will deliver his report to the City Council by April 12, under an amendment offered by Tovo.

Spelman altered his own proposal, which as originally written would have temporarily suspended the city’s review.

The language drew criticism from about a half-dozen speakers, including Maurice Anderson, a homeowner who lives across from a short-term rental in Allandale.

“I want the city staff process to continue and not be stopped by this audit,” Anderson said.

But others, like Bob Easter, a homeowner who co-owns two short-term rentals, spoke in favor of the proposal. “As a businessperson, I can’t imagine making a decision without facts,” Easter said. “What is the problem with receiving facts?”

About a dozen people overall spoke for or against the proposal.

Spelman said it was never his intent to bring the city’s review to a halt, only to ensure that no final city action take place until the auditor’s report was returned. He amended the resolution to reflect that.

“I would like for us to move beyond the studying into the acting,” Tovo said, citing concerns about clusters of short-term rentals in central city neighborhoods and their effect on families with children.

“This is a planning decision about what we want our central neighborhoods to look like,” Tovo said.

jcastillo@statesman.com; 445-3635

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