Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report
Short-term rentals have been creating quite the stir in San Antonio. I am a neighborhood advocate, a dad to three young children, and the owner of a non-owner-occupied short-term rental. I live in a near-downtown neighborhood with varying styles houses of built in the early 1900s, and with lots of character.
Our non-owner-occupied, or Type 2, short-term rental is on the block behind the house we live in – we can see it from our backyard. On one side of it is a vacant home, on the other side and across the street are homes with great neighbors. My wife and I bought the house last year as an investment toward retirement. Our kids are in elementary school, so we hoped the house would provide us some extra income for things like sports, art classes, or summer camps.
The house we bought had been “flipped.” We originally intended to rent it out with a traditional long-term lease. We considered short-term rental as an option, but were wary of the unknown. When we mentioned short-term rental to neighbors, they all encouraged us, so we made a significant investment in furnishing the house and decided to give it a try.
A task force has been working on a new ordinance to address this new business model within our neighborhoods. Having had the opportunity to read the draft ordinance and hear the concerns of many fellow neighborhood activists, allow me to share my perspective on some of the issues.
Argument: Type 2 short-term rentals are party houses that create noise and parking problems
Noise and parties were one of the reasons we opted to use the house as a short-term rental instead of looking for a long-term tenant. We felt short-term guests would create less wear and tear and that we would have more control over who was in the house. Platforms like AirBnB, VRBO, and Home Away include rating systems that evaluate both guests and hosts.
Hosts can set rules prohibiting parties and specifying parking rules. Generally, short-term guests will stay a weekend to a week max. Hosts who get loud or unruly guests can turn to the rental platforms for recourse; in dire cases, guests may be asked to leave the property. However, there's ample motivation for guests to be on their best behavior because they know hosts will rate them following their stay. Conversely, living next to a loud long-term renter can be a big problem, and it can take more than a year to evict an un-neighborly tenant.
Argument: Living next to a Type 2 short-term rental is like living next to a vacant house
The argument here is the lack of a consistent neighbor who is in the house every day. Most short-term guests stay over the weekend, so when a house is rented Thursday through Sunday each week, it is vacant Monday through Wednesday. The argument that the house is unoccupied half the time doesn’t hold water for several reasons.
First, a Type 2 short-term rental looks nothing like a vacant house. Of the seven vacant houses on the same block as our rental, most have peeling paint and overgrown yards. Some are boarded up. They attract graffiti and crime and do not contribute to the neighborhood.
Our rental has a maintained yard, new paint, and clean windows. On the days it is unoccupied, my wife and I are on the property cleaning and doing maintenance. All of the neighbors know us and our kids, who go with us to rake leaves and sweep the porch. We keep it in top condition because we want good ratings from our guests.
Second, the vacant-house argument reaches into the realm of trying to control how neighbors use their home. If the house was occupied by a long-term renter or owner who travels three days a week for a job, neighbors could not possibly expect the City to entertain complaints about the house being vacant.
Argument: Most Type 2 short-term rental owners are out-of-town corporations
My wife and I are among hundreds of regular people across the city operating Type 2 rentals with care and thought. We are sensitive to our neighbors’ concerns, and we care about the neighborhood our rental is in. Most short-term rental owners only list their homes for one or two years, which implies a temporary financial reason for doing it.
The proposed ordinance could prove costly for Type 2 short-term rental owners and seemingly aims to force regular folks like me out. They are so cumbersome that people who operate short-term rentals in addition to their full-time jobs are unlikely to follow them. They may stop hosting, which would leave those out-of-town corporate hosts without local competition. Local hosts like me spend their money in San Antonio, and we always recommend local businesses to our guests. If we are all driven away by burdensome permitting requirements, appointments with the Board of Adjustments, and excessive insurance policies, only the corporations will be left, and that money won’t go back into San Antonio’s economy.
Argument: Type 2 STRs contribute to San Antonio’s housing crisis
We paid market rate for the house we rent out short-term. If we hadn't, someone else would have – either way, it would not have been classified as “affordable.” I know a Type 2 short-term rental owner who tried to sell his house. It sat on the market for nearly a year before he turned to short-term rental so as to cover the mortgage. Most Type 2 rentals are like mine: renovated, decorated, and in high-demand areas of town. The investor who flipped our house didn’t ask us if we planned to live there before selling it to us. Short-term rentals are not the solution to affordable housing, and they are not the cause of the shortage.
The City says we are in a housing crisis; yet two, quarter-mile long blocks in my neighborhood, one of San Antonio’s most rapidly gentrifying areas, contain 22 vacant units that I know of. These houses sit empty while Bexar County continues to collect property taxes on them every year.
Rather than attack Type 2 short-term rental owners, who maintain and use their properties, we need to shift focus to the real elephant in the room: our out-of-control property taxes. Type 2 owners not only pay property taxes, some also pay City Hotel Occupancy Taxes. The City could offer owners tax incentives to put renters into vacant homes. Many of them need repairs and some are tied up in title issues. The City and Bexar County Appraisal District could help by assisting owners in resolving title issues and offering tax breaks to reinvest in the property. Getting renters into vacant homes is a surefire way to affordably ease the housing burden we are currently facing. The City has already acknowledged that the most affordable housing we have is the existing housing stock.
The issue is complex, but short-term rentals can, and in many cases do, benefit neighborhoods. Both lawmakers and neighbors should use caution in how hard they push for and against regulation through this ordinance. But as a short-term rental host and neighborhood advocate, I would like to see locals – not out-of-town corporations – flourish within neighborhoods and benefit San Antonio as a whole.