Pilot Program Spurs STR Crackdown
Austin Code is closely monitoring short-term rentals
The Austin Code Department is halfway through a pilot program aimed at addressing out-of-control short-term rental properties (STRs), and the results are already coming in.
By adding around-the-clock direct response on nights and weekends during July, Austin residents can call 311 and have a code officer come address their complaints of renters' parties, parking, and pollution in real time. On July 8, Carl Smart, director of Austin Code, issued an update to City Council describing preliminary results of the monthlong pilot program that began July 3.
Over that holiday weekend, the enforcement team carried out 51 inspections, triggered by calls of complaint to 311. These most often involved occupancy concerns, suspected illegal activity, parking issues, and street trash.
Despite enhanced enforcement, policing these rentals isn't always straightforward. "The problem is, you can't just kick down people's doors," said Jacqueline Ballone, spokesperson with the Austin Code Department. "How do we deal with over-occupancy if we can't enter the home?"
For the first time since the STR ordinance was approved in 2012, there is now a joint effort between City Council and Austin Code to amend the law governing the thousands of profitable rental properties – and the pilot enforcement program is one of the first steps in the process. As of April 2015, there were 1,154 licensed short-term rental properties in the city, with an untold number of illegal units operating on the fringe.
Addressing those unlawful rentals is at the heart of an effort before the City Council to amend the existing ordinance. To support that change, the results of the pilot program may show that regardless of enforcement, the ordinance as it stands is untenable. A Council resolution led by District 10 CM Sheri Gallo is expected to pick up where the enforcement initiative leaves off by requesting city management investigate the citizen complaints and determine if there are "gaps" in city policy that need action.
In June, the code department released a list of its own recommendations to give the law more teeth. The proposed additions include a penalty for operating without a license or with an expired license, a clause to allow inspections for over-occupancy, and a requirement for all STR advertisements to explicitly state, "It is a violation of city code to allow more than six (6) unrelated adults to occupy the dwelling unit at one time." Others on and off the council dais envision even more limits, especially on commercial, or Type 2, STRs.
For now, the pilot program period continues through Aug. 8, with an analysis of the program's results to be released thereafter.