Proposed Short-Term Rental Ordinance an Unfair Burden on Homeowners

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Natasha Bakunda sits with her dog on the front port of her home in Dignowity HIll.

Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

Natasha Bakunda and her dog sit on the front porch of her home in Dignowity Hill.

I really should be studying and investing in my future. But instead I am sitting here writing about the daylight robbers at City Hall.

I recently read the proposed short-term rental ordinance, and I found the contents horrifying. I'll tell you why, but first, a little about me.

I came to San Antonio little more than five years ago. I rented my first year and hated it. I worked night shifts at the time and I always seemed to get an apartment beneath men in steel boots who spent all day stomping around and dropping things. Having a home was a dream; in fact, having a home was the only way I could dream.

I eventually bought a small house in Dignowity Hill for $60,000. It was poorly rehabbed and dated, but it was mine. I cried when I hung up my first picture. The satisfaction of never having to answer to anyone about the state of my walls was overwhelming.

My mortgage principal and interest were around $300 a month. But my taxes went up every year – doubling, then tripling. I didn’t care – I made enough as a registered nurse. But then I started graduate school at one of the most demanding programs in the state. I cut my work hours precipitously and began to rent out my spare room on Airbnb.

Airbnb kept my family out of debt and allowed to me to maintain a 4.0 GPA at school, which garnered me scholarships that helped me further my studies. It’s not easy, but I am working hard and trying to succeed.

The Airbnb room available in Natasha Bakunda's Dignowity Hill home.

Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

Natasha Bakunda rents out a room in her Dignowity Hill home on Airbnb.

This ordinance threatens to upend all that. I already pay exorbitant taxes and adding a permit and a plethora of inspections would cut into the income I am getting from my short-term rental. I need to live here. Airbnb works because that income helps with the bills by leveraging my assets in a way that is more flexible for me without taking on a full-time tenant.

It is wrong, dare I say egregiously wrong, to expect me to pay ever-rising taxes as well as permits for a part-time, owner-occupied rental in my own home. I cannot support this ordinance and will do everything in my power as resident of this city to oppose it.

I'd rather the City divert its resources to fixing roads. For as long a I have lived on Lamar Street, I have never actually gone down my own road – because it's in a terrible state. It's full of potholes and even sinkholes. Driver run the risk of ruining their suspension or drowning in the puddle near Alamo Brewery.

Again, I should be studying and investing in my future; instead I am fighting an ordinance that has none of my interests at heart. This ordinance, if passed, is nothing short of a travesty. We must oppose it, one and all.

It’s my house, I’ll be damned if I allow anyone to dictate how I leverage it towards my future.

39 thoughts on “Proposed Short-Term Rental Ordinance an Unfair Burden on Homeowners

  1. I completely agree with Natasha…

    Be ready to pay $200 permit fees (non-transferable), $100 renewal fees, monthly liability insurance payments, hotel occupancy taxes, not to mention all of the little requirements posting occupancy load, quiet hours, parking….and any number of little things you could accumulate violations for and pay more to the city…or perhaps even have your right (no longer just a right) to even do Airbnb legally revoked. This is garbage and completely removes incentive for a lot of potentially amazing Airbnb spots. Really kills the ‘spirit’ and I hate to use that for sake of argument…but it kills the spirit of what is great about Airbnb…lack of regulation. Currently the rating system and the review system works so well. Occupants and owners get reviewed by each other. Keeps everyone in check. It’s not broken, so don’t fix it.

    Just wait til they start implementing accessibility requirements and the ADA gets involved! Then you’ll really want to do Airbnb. 1:12 ramps snaking through your front yard to your door…get ready to widen all of your hallways and a $10,000+ bathroom remodel. Think I’m crazy? You’re only like one step away from that since it seems you are now classified as a different use and occupancy type. Anything commercial gets designed for wheel chairs and fire trucks. Call me callous, insensitive or inappropriate but it’s true.

    I have a home office, do I have to change my occupancy type for that one room when I meet with a consultant? Should I now post the max occupancy load, and parking requirements? Should I get the fire marshal out to see if I have all of my required fire doors?

    • The state and local HOT taxes have been a requirement all along for any short term rental. People have just been ignoring it and not paying. That’s probably the number 1 reason we end up getting regulations like this. I have rented out a room for the past 3 years and have been paying the HOT tax since day 1.

      • Jim,

        I ran an AirBnB for years, like you we paid HOT from day 1. That cost is passed along to renters just like hotels. Not unreasonable at all and doesn’t take much effort to file either.

  2. If you have been renting the room out for short term rentals all this time and not paying the city and state hotel taxes, then you have been violating existing laws all along. All this ordinance really does is clarify what is already on the books, and makes sure people aren’t renting out fire traps by requiring a smoke alarm and fire extinguisher. I’ve been renting out a room in our house for several years now and have always paid the hotel tax for any stay less than 30 days. It isn’t fair that other people ignore the law and undercut me on price. Paying a small permit fee every 3 years to level the playing field seems fair to me. Anyway, it seems pretty much like a done deal at this point. AirBnB is already automatically charging the state portion of the hotel tax.

  3. Well said! The City has better things to do. This whole short-term rental “problem” is really a non-issue and the few residents that don’t like short-term rentals are just stuck in an antiquated mind-set.

  4. I entirely support this article. Living in a historic district, I am already told what I can do on the outside of my house, now they also want to tax and tell me what I can do on the inside as well. Crazy. I can only hope that an investigative journalist looks into the true source of these types of policies. I wouldn’t be surprised if some hotel lobby and a hand (and money) in this.

  5. I attended an early meeting on short-term rentals last March and insisted they treat owner-occupied hosts like Natasha and me different from businesses that buy up multiple houses to rent out like motels. They did pay lip service to Type 1 and Type 2 but then imposed the same heavy-handed regulations on both. The signage is asinine. I rent out one room and for that I must put up 12 (TWELVE!!!) “Tenant Indoor Notifications” including “Flooding hazards and evacuation routes”. I live on a high hill. When this house floods all of South Texas will be under water! Does the Hyatt Regency have to tell its guests an evacuation route in case downtown floods? My personal favorite required signs are “Property cleanliness requirements” and “Trash pick-up requirements, including location of trash cans”. Do they think I am sharing my home with pigs?! Does the Hyatt Regency put up signs about TRASH?!
    My guests have invariably been tidy, quiet people. Next week we’re heading to Mexico to visit a friend whom we originally met when she was our Airbnb guest.

  6. First let me say, I am 100% in support of STRs (both Type 1 & Type 2). I support them in historic districts as well as suburban neighborhoods. Let’s say we are in agreement on this.
    What I don’t support is the lack of regulation we have now. As the “sharing economy” grows, and San Antonio grows, technology changes, as does how we spend our money. We can’t sit back a let it be unregulated. Without regulation there is no standard, there is no conformity; and this is not fair to the consumer. Occupancy standards are the norm in big cities across the country. San Antonio’s is lax to say the least. Just because one STR vendor goes the extra mile, doesn’t mean they all do. And while there AirBnB, VRBO, HomeAway, Etc. offer a system of “checks & balances,” there really is no recourse for failure to adhere to a standard. Negative reviews don’t address safety issues, poor service, or even keep people from renting with that owner. Lest we even mention the discrimination, steering, and redlining hidden under the guise of the “review system.” The current STR platform (or lack there of ) provides no recourse or anywhere to turn for issues that affect both the leasee and/or the neighborhood or greater community. I certainly don’t think this ordinance will fix every issue, but what it will do is create a minimum standard and a system for correction, at least from the health and well being of the community side of things.
    You mention the permit fee as a hindrance, but realistically, this fee is so small relative to a percentage of an average 1-night stay, it shouldn’t have even been mentioned. The greater issue is the Hotel Occupancy Tax (HOT). Do I think STRs should be taxed differently than a standard long-term rental? Yes! Do I think they should be taxed the same as hotels? Absolutely NOT! This part of the ordinance should be reviewed and amended.
    Certainly STRs bring in out-of-towners that use our infrastructure. They may be spending dollars increasing our sales tax base, but their impact on our infrastructure (which you mentioned) cannot go unnoticed. I see no problem with taxing STRs; the vendor can pass along this tax to the end user. I never have a problem paying it when I travel. This expense is one that the burden can & will ultimately fall on the user. Their alternatives for lodging are subject to HOT as well. I’ve never heard of a person cancelling a trip because the Hotel Occupancy Tax was too high for them to visit that city.
    The one item you mention, which I feel is most important, yet no one seems to want to address is Property Taxes. Yes property taxes are steadily rising across the SA Metro. No area has seen a greater rise Dignowity Hill. Folks blame gentrification, in-migration, inflation, etc. What we don’t blame is ourselves. We live in a place without State or Local income taxes, and low taxes across the board…except Property Taxes. This is a regressive tax that hurts fixed, low, and middle-income earners the most. The worst is, we have to amend the state constitution fix this problem. Crickets…! This is elephant in the room, that no one addresses, and that is 100% our fault. If want lower property taxes, fight for State tax reform.
    I am sure folks will want to drag me out in the street and burn me for even implying the notion of an income tax, but hopefully the reality of tying our only tax to our real estate is finally starting to set-in. This affects all homeowners, and greatly affects the bottom line of STR and other rental property owners. This to me is far more significant than the HOT. At least the HOT is tied to sales.
    In closing, the new ordinance (if enacted) shouldn’t affect too many Type 1 STRs. There will be a few more regulations on Type 2s. The greatest factors are not property rights or intrusion of privacy, but Taxation; both HOT & Property Taxes. I am not seeing very many STR owners taking up this fight. I’d say a small group of individuals from King William is better organized and represented in their opposition of STRs (in general) than STR owners themselves.

  7. It’s a shame that the costs of these permits and inspections is just another burden to us homeowners who are barely making it to pay our raising house taxes. With any profit it helps up upkeep our houses and feed our families, being a senior citizen I would have to sell my house which I’ve lived in 50 yrs. My neighborhood supports me in having a Airbnb and even send me guests when there families are in town. There are more positive s than negatives. It brings communities together.

    • If you are over 65, your property appraisal value should be frozen, and you also get the over 65 exemption. Did you not file for your exemption?

    • I bet there is a case, where Type 1 permits cost less than Type 2 permits, since the owner-operator is right there regulating the business. Maybe y’all could band together to make that compelling argument, Marilyn?
      The scenario of house-flippers, and then non-occupier operators running multiple properties with multiple rooms, worries me. Keeping hotels and motels out of residential neighborhoods with this Type 2 permitting seems to be the key.

      As to JimTx’s point, make sure you’re getting all the exemptions due to you, from the Bexar Appraisal District. I believe your protest has to occur every year, before the notices go out (I think this in October)

  8. It is preposterous to believe that your property rights outflank the rights of others to have a neighborhood with neighbors. This claim of ‘unfairness’ is not even a valid construct. Put a business in your home and that affects other property owners. Put a business in your home and expect zero regulation or zero tax increase? That’s flawed logic at its worst. Type I rentals are traditional use of our old homes that often have accessory structures. It’s a great way to supplement income if and only if density and distance requirements are imposed. The B&B Ordinance CoSA took 3 full years to write and needs to be considered in context. An STR is a B&B. The platforms have changed the nature of renting. But it’s still no different. B&B don’t serve food much anymore so that distinction is out. Why would one property owner NOT have to be subject to regulations, inspections and fees. Claiming something isn’t fair when you’re implicitly asking that you get treated differently strikes me as a bit absurd. Our property owners’ group in King William is not anti-STR Type I. But we’re absokitely opposed to the proliferation of non-owner occupied properties. Gentrification goes up. Affordable rentals are reduced significantly. Neighborhood fabric is riddled with mini-hotels. We took 3 years to get the B&B Ordinance right. If CoSA would enforce it that’d be helpful. We need to listen to king time property owners who’ve poured their blood and souls into making these places matter. This view matters. This lifestyle matters. These homes and relationships matter. I don’t want my Historic District turned into a mini-hotel Airbnb empire. We saved King William in the 50s from 281 coming directly down Sheridan. We saved it in the 90s from a proliferation of B&B. Here we are again. CoSA advertises King William all over the world for the success it is. Understand why that is and what we do to protect and regulate that succsss.

    • Thank you for your response, Mary, and thank you for helping keep King William “authentic” (I’m still digesting a recent TPR ‘The Source’ program, but it focuses on our SA and keeping “SA-authentic” businesses in place)
      And much thanks for expressing more of what I’m worried about: mini-hotel empires sprouting up in residential neighborhoods, whether facilitated under an AirBnB platform or through a Craigslist-type medium.
      Lightly and smartly regulate STR Type 1s!
      Closely monitor and regulate STR Type 2s! (or, better yet from my viewpoint, eliminate them)

  9. As to Lamar Street and its horrible state, off-the-cuff this sounds like an item one can take to the Bexar Appraisal District to protest the yearly evaluation. On the flip side, we’ve successfully protested that heavy traffic reduces our property value. This must be done every year, I believe before October. Give it a shot.
    More importantly, team up with Alamo Brewery and other businesses and your HOA, or informal group of concerned residential neighbors, and raise heck with Councilman Shaw and Mayor Nirenberg. Your writing is persuasive, so that can give your protesting group the words and moral authority for that trek to City Hall.

    However, I would like to know more of the specifics of your opposition to the draft. As a neighbor, I can envision not just one but quite a few AirBnB’s on a block, which can result in a lot more street parking and strangers in my area. I like quiet, and my dog would have a lot to say, particularly when guests show up in the late evening or night.
    And it is more responsible to set up working smoke and CO detectors, with extra fire extinguisher(s), and extra general liability insurance (you don’t wanna get sued, but if it happens, you want some good backup)

    I do like an earlier comment, that the neighbors approve and send guests. The trust for self-regulating AirBnBs is there, it sounds like. Maybe if an HOA, or City-Neighborhood Association, or a collected group of valid residents sign off on particular provisions, exceptions can be made (e.g. residents tolerating on-street parking, and so 3-year permit fee is reduced)
    Type 1 permitting is much more preferable (owner-occupied operator), and so I can believe fees should be reduced (vs. Type 2 permitting)

    Anyway, thank you for you thoughts, Natasha. Although I am pushing back, your article is giving me good pause to reflect on my position. Good luck in earning your master’s, and may good fortune support and uplift you and yours.

  10. While I’m sympathetic to the issue of trying to make it while going to grad school, having to rent out your home in the first place to make ends meet is the real problem toward which we should be looking for a solution. And I’m afraid the city is right: if you are going to be a regular renter to others the renters deserve some rights, too. They deserve to know the place they lay their head at night is safe in case there’s a fire, or an emergency, or anything should happen. They should know they’re protected in case something happens to them or their belongings while they stay with you. Sorry but that’s the truth.

    I’m sorry you’re in a difficult spot, but maybe you should ask AirBnB, who is making money off of your renting, to provide more help? Or maybe we should be looking at the fact property taxes are skyrocketing and what can we do to address that and gentrification? Or maybe the fact it’s impossible to take care of a home and family on the low wages most people receive these days? In all those fights, I am with you.

  11. The City should really focus on STR2s. They do create artificial housing shortages and reduce the feel of neighborhoods. I know three people who own affordable apartment buildings near downtown with several of those being on Airbnb. I like these property owners and don’t wish them any harm. But I don’t think this is good for the city and its people.

    Owner-occupied STRs, however, are a non-issue, in my view.

  12. The house next to mine has been operating as a STR for over a year. I consider that house among the best neighbors in my entire neighborhood. Half the time, the house is empty and quiet. I like that! When I had homeowners living in that house, there were frequent problems with trash, dogs barking all night, 20-somethings noisily playing basketball in the driveway after midnight, etc.
    If asked what are my main complaints about my ‘hood, I would say (1) that folks who have lived here for many years do not understand what the brown, blue & green refuse bins are for; (2) that dogs are not intended to be outdoor 24/7 security systems, barking at absolutely everything; (3) that outdoor lights should be installed so they shine only on your property and not your neighbors’ yards and windows; and (4) that outdoor BBQ activities should be controlled as to not fill the entire block with stinky smoke (especially overnight meat smokers).
    I am sympathetic to how STR regulations affect homeowners and affordable housing, but I am unable to paint all STR situations as evil. I also know for a fact that some people vehemently opposed to STRs are just upset by the idea of it, without any concrete specific complaints other than “they’re drug dealers” or some other delusional fear.

    • I love your comments!
      Since the City mandates that my Airbnb guests (Type 1) must have signage on how to use a trash can I’m assuming the City is making that a high priority for everyone. Can we expect that soon our non-Airbnb neighbors will get training and enforcement on what goes in a blue bin vs a brown one? My guests are certainly cleaner than some of my neighbors, and yours from the sound of it.

  13. Keep Airbnbs owner occupied, no problem. Limit them to one per lot, ok. No music, no problem. But why do they have to have off street parking? How many restaurants in King William have little, or literally no off street parking…most? Why burden a homeowner with a requirement not observed by other businesses? 40 strs in King William…so if that takes up 40 parking spaces neighborhood wide how does that compare to a bar or restaurant that serves hundreds of people per night with no off street parking? Many of these older homes don’t have off street parking for even the homeowners themselves. I think that part of the KWA position is overreach and punitive to homeowners.

  14. Thanks for explaining this issue from an Airbnb owner’s perspective, Natasha.
    As usual, it sounds like heavy-handed government over control, creating problems that don’t exist. I support you and any other enterprising homeowners that are just trying to make a decent living and support their families.

  15. I feel there is a difference between an owner occupied house just renting a room or two And someone who rents the whole house out. One of their problems has been those party houses. I feel you fall more under what they used to call a boarding house which rented rooms only. The amount of extra traffic it would add to your area is about the same if as if someone had a guest.

    • You are so right!
      When my granddaughter and her friends visit we have more cars than when an Airbnb guest occupies our guestroom.

  16. As long as Airbnb people have the same insurance, tax, health, and building code requirements as hotels, then more power to you and hope everyone is successful. Otherwise the Airbnb people are not paying their fair share and mooching off everyone else.

  17. I’m with Natasha — Airbnb in particular (the most transparent of STR operations in San Antonio currently?) should be recognized for how it benefits local families, jobs, properties and neighborhood economies. The City has offered various and incredibly large tax and other incentives to hotels — where is the acknowledgement of the benefits of (if not direct support for) STRs?

    Beyond helping a diversity of locals, STRs like Airbnb give global visitors and the latest arrivals better options and more reason to visit (more often and staying longer, per research in other cities) and platforms towards moving to San Antonio — noting how STR stays can often springboard into residency, including home ownership, in various cities.

    STRs are or can be start-up housing in San Antonio — including staging grounds if not the economic engine for fixing up long blighted residential properties (hotels haven’t done this). The benefits outweigh many of the phantom concerns suggested with the proposed additional and ‘unique’ — to put it kindly — STR regulations, and especially for San Antonio’s understood persistently distressed zipcodes within the 410 loop where the majority of Airbnb activity is clustered.

    I live in one of San Antonio’s most active Airbnb clusters and amidst a range of other rental activity, and I am not in any way negatively impacted by these currently regulated practices (including noting how Airbnb and users co-police this system). Quite the opposite, as STR operations seem to give me better choices as a resident (not an operator) and increase the positive use of my neighborhood and economic activity in my distressed zipcode and throughout San Antonio. There doesn’t seem to be any compelling public interest served with the proposed additional STR regulation beyond the appeasement of a vocal handful and hotel interests.

    The comments above indicate how fraught the proposed additional STR regulations are (how could they ever be equitably enforced?). The severity of the proposals suggest to me that this is ‘made-up’ or vigilante local policy driven by fear and bullying behavior by a few residents and representing the big hotel interests that have been behind the push for anti-STR regulation in other US cities. The City’s recommendations seem to lack an equity or social cohesion focus and to be incredibly light on local research and awareness of local conditions and biases.

    I am hopeful that more Council members will decide to walk out of this particular STR regulation conversation that seems loaded against the majority of local residents, fair use of private and public property (if you have ever parked on the street where you are not a resident, raise your hand), equitable enforcement, and the welcoming of visitors, newcomers, young people and innovation to San Antonio.

    It shouldn’t be surprising that the same vocal handful and big business interests opposing bed and breakfasts, public transit, street and sidewalk access and affordable housing in THEIR neighborhoods or districts now target STRs like Airbnb for all of us.

    • I’m wondering why the community shouldn’t be interested in the well being of existing hotels? Those hotels employ local people. Many of the hotels downtown received economic incentives from the city, meaning our tax dollars are invested in their success.

  18. All of my Air Bnb guests have been quieter and cleaner than my neighbors. In fact, my guests have been quieter and cleaner than my ex spouse who used to live here. I am not a home owner, so this article is not directly relevant to me, but if I were a home owner I would probably still be interested in renting out an extra room. Like the author, I started renting out my guest room on Air Bnb in order to cover my own housing costs. After a divorce, I cannot afford my apartment rent on my single income. Air Bnb has allowed me to remain in my community, and it has allowed me to introduce visitors to small businesses in my area. One of San Antonio’s major economic industries is tourism, and I love being able to support this industry by offering accommodation to budget travelers, who would otherwise not be able to afford to stay in San Antonio. I am in support of less restrictions for home owners when it comes to short term rentals.

  19. Who are these unidentified “vocal minorities” who oppose all STRs? I’ve attended dozens of public meetings, and I don’t recall anyone opposing all STRs. Instead, people have advocated for reasonable limits. No one disputes individual stories like the one expressed by the author here. But it takes neighbors to make a neighborhood, not temporary guests. It’s not fear mongering to point to the block that has seven STRs (read “vacant houses”) and express sadness that the neighborhood quality has been diminished. To paraphrase the author, “It’s my neighborhood. I’ll be damned if I allow anyone’s personal property rights to outweigh the neighborhood’s residential zoning.”

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