AUSTIN (KXAN) — Austin City Council members want to crack down on short-term rentals that aren’t licensed with the city.
The city’s code department told KXAN there are about 11,000 short-term rentals (STRs) in Austin, but only 1,875 are currently licensed.
A spokesperson said unlicensed operators could be fined up to $2,000.
“It is challenging to enforce,” said city council member Kathie Tovo. She was the sponsor of a resolution city council members just passed Thursday.
It directs the city manager to change city code to bring in companies like Airbnb and VRBO.
“This measure really just makes sure that any platforms like VRBO or any other vacation rental platforms are making sure that properties have a license before they allow them to advertise,” Tovo explained.
Tovo’s resolution also directs the city manager to create an online database of licensed short-term rentals (STRs). She said licensing helps the city track rentals better and make sure they’re following code.
According to a city memo from 2019, 93% of STR properties found in violation of city code that year were unlicensed. Laura Martinez is not surprised.
“No one’s telling them, and no one’s knocking at their door, ‘you’re not regulated,'” she said.
She’s among the few who have gotten their rental licensed with the city.
“Here we have all the rules,” she said as she shows KXAN a binder placed on the counter of her rental home. “Our city ordinance, which is very important. So, there’s no, no loud noise after 10 p.m.”
She takes the rules seriously, because violations could put her license in jeopardy.
“If they consider that there are two strikes on you, for instance, they’ll consider not to renew your application,” Martinez said.
Martinez, who owns The Key Rentals, owns one property and co-manages another in Austin, plus others around Central Texas.
She and Tovo also think the rule enforcement may help free up Austin homes for longer-term rent or for sale.
“It’s just like, ‘Okay, they caught up on what we’re doing. So, let’s go somewhere else,'” Martinez said.
“As we face a housing crisis, and we’re trying to look at all of the tools we have available to create more housing for Austinites, we really need to make sure that we’re cracking down on short-term rentals, especially those that are that are operating illegally,” Tovo said.
Tovo also said the licensing fees add to the city’s coffers.
The code department said the majority of its STR enforcement resources were spent on unlicensed STR operations.
According to the city’s website, it costs a total of $733.80 to apply for an initial license and $412 to renew it, which is required every year. The law applies to all properties, including rooms and guest houses, rented for less than 30 consecutive days, according to the city.
“Every single day the city is losing out on thousands of dollars that could go to support cultural arts, our music community and historic preservation projects, and so I think it’s incumbent that our council revisits our STR conversation to have a conversation on how we can work the operators and work with our community to ensure that we have a system in place that everyone mutually benefits from,” council member Vanessa Fuentes said during a meeting in the fall.
Tovo said the city manager now has to figure out how to work with the vacation rental platforms and what penalties they might face for not enforcing the city’s license requirement.
You can apply for an STR license with the city here.