AUSTIN (KXAN) — Kevin Atherton loves being near downtown.
For more than three years he lived at Sentral East Austin.
“It was right in the heart of… East 6th Street,” Atherton explained. “Had great downtown views – top floor, you know, I actually really loved my place.”
Atherton said he had hoped to continue living there but when he tried to renew his lease, he explained that he was told his unit was being converted to a short-term rental (STR).
“You can go on Hotels.com or Expedia and you know, rent one of these rooms for the night like a hotel room,” Atherton said. “So essentially, it really got me curious why they would want to turn, you know, all these livable units in the city of Austin into these hotel rooms when you know, we’re in a housing shortage.”
Out of about 250 Sentral East Austin apartment homes, 50 are converting to short-term leasing rentals, said Sentral Regional General Manager, Kristin Parfrey.
“With the growing number of workers who are no longer tied to offices, the demand for these flexible living arrangements has increased, and Sentral is fulfilling this growing demand,” explained Parfrey in an emailed statement. “Sentral offers lease terms ranging from several weeks to 12 months.”
KXAN investigators found several Sentral East Austin apartments for a few nights listed on websites like Hotels.com.
“We really have just people coming in and out of the building, different people day by day, you don’t know your neighbors,” said Lauren Wolf who has lived at the apartment since 2020. “As a single female living alone, it’s really scary to just know that anyone has access.”
Wolf said she decided to live at Sentral East Austin after learning from management that the complex didn’t offer short-term rentals like other apartments.
“I have a lease that did not specify this,” Wolf said. “It’s hard to know if someone is a resident, a short-term renter or just trying to gain access.”
Sentral said the same safety measures are in place regardless of lease terms.
Council member reexamining ordinance
Austin City Council amended the original short-term rental ordinance in 2016 to include apartments and condos.
All short-term rentals are required to have a license and renew it every year.
As of Aug. 8, the city had 567 active licenses for this type of rental at apartments and condos.
Sentral’s units are not included in the data. A spokesperson with the Austin Code Department said their licenses expired. Sentral explained that the renewal is currently in process.
Council Member Pio Renteria whose district includes east Austin where Sentral is located said he’s hearing more and more concerns from residents about the “rapid proliferation” of short-term rentals.
“So-called “party-houses” in single-family neighborhoods that cater to large groups of visitors are generating significant quality of life issues for neighboring residents; apartment complexes deciding that they can make more money by maximizing the number of units they rent as STRs than they can by renting to people who actually live here; general safety and nuisance concerns that unsurprisingly accompany a constant influx of strangers into our residential neighborhoods; the impact of having so much of our already limited housing stock being reserved for non-residents on rental prices. These issues are real, they are disturbing, and they are growing at an alarming rate,” said Renteria in a statement.
He added while the city has ordinances that regulate short-term rentals, the reality is that enforcement actions are limited by state law caps on the size of fines the city can issue and market conditions that make the short-term rental business in Austin lucrative.
“Given the growing nature of this problem however, I believe it is time for the City Council to begin reexamining our policies around STR regulation before these issues get even more out of control and I will be requesting that a public briefing on the current state of STRs in Austin be included on next month’s Housing and Planning Committee agenda to that effect,” Renteria said.
Search for a new home
KXAN investigators have asked the city for the number of short-term rental violations and outcomes, but that data was not readily available.
Sentral said it works closely with residents whose apartments may be impacted by offering comparable apartments and lease terms.
“One of Sentral’s core values is customer satisfaction. We achieve excellent sentiment scores from our residents,” said Parfrey.
Atherton said he had hoped to go month-to-month but with his unit converting to a short-term rental that wasn’t an option.
He moved out and is still looking for a permanent home.
“If we need more hotel rooms in the City of Austin well, you know, let’s build more hotels,” explained Atherton. “I don’t see how there’s any benefit of taking livable units off the market and turning them into these hotel rooms when people are really struggling to find a place to live.”