AUSTIN (KXAN) — It’s something the City of Austin has been trying to navigate for years: Ensuring homes and apartments that may be suitable housing for Austinites in the midst of a housing crisis don’t get flipped to short-term rentals.

City staff estimate there are between 9,000-11,000 STRs in the City of Austin, but Code Department Director José Roig said in his briefing to some city council members in September that those numbers go up when Austin has special events like Austin City Limits Festival, F1 or a big Austin FC match, all of which are happening over the next few weeks.

Folks visiting Austin tell us the events have made rentals pricey.

“We booked it [an Airbnb] like a month ago. It was about $4,000. We ended up canceling it, booking hotels. We got here, we didn’t like the hotel because it was far away. We ended up booking the same Airbnb that we booked and cancelled for half the price,” a man visiting from Boston for ACL said.

He and his friends admitted they were also cutting down on cost by having nine people in one place, something the city and rental sites have been trying to crack down on because they tend to generate noise complaints. But city staff say they’re struggling to do that right now because thousands of people aren’t bothering to apply for short-term rental licenses, which strips some of the city’s power to regulate the properties.

Roig told council in a housing and planning committee update last month that less than 2,000 short-term rental properties are licensed through the city. That’s down by more than 1,000 licenses since the start of the pandemic, he said.

“People are not coming back to renew their license or issue new licenses,” he explained.

He also expressed challenges the city is having in terms of citing those people. He said to issue a citation, staff either need an omission from a tenant or to pin down an advertisement for an unlicensed property, which generally isn’t made available until after a property is booked.

It’s something city council members said would be revisited moving forward.

“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.

For Laura Martinez, who owns two short-term rental properties in the Austin-area and manages another, she said she was “very surprised” that so many rentals didn’t have the proper licensing.

“I talked to someone, I think it was about a month ago, and maybe this is the case: She said ‘oh during high season, I put my house for rent, maybe four times a year’ and I said ‘oh, do you have a permit?’ I thought I would ask, right? And she says, ‘oh no, they’re not gonna find out’ and I said ‘ah, they’re going to catch up,'” Martinez said.

She said at their properties they work to cut down on any complaints from neighbors by being in direct communication with them and putting cameras on the exteriors of the properties. She is with The Key Rentals.

Airbnb has been working to crack down on parties at their rentals over the past few years. They said in Texas, they saw a nearly 50% drop in parties reported in 2021 compared to 2020, when they implemented a party ban.

During Halloween weekend, guests without a history of positive reviews will not be allowed to make one-night reservations, the company said. People trying to make reservations for that weekend also have to acknowledge that if they’re caught, they could be subject to legal action from the company when booking.

Austin Code Enforcement does not have the authority to address the source of a noise complaint, that’s something only law enforcement can do.