Short-Term Rentals Have a Place Until They Displace Neighbors

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The Jackson House Bed and Breakfast in King William.

Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

The Jackson House Bed and Breakfast in King William.

I grew up an Army brat. My father’s job forced our family to move around the country every two years. Sometimes we had a house to live in, sometimes we didn’t. We missed celebrations of extended family. We couldn’t have pets. After we moved, it was hard to maintain friendships.

I never had roots until I found a home for sale on a quiet street in the King William Historic District in San Antonio. Not just a house, but a home with neighbors who welcomed me and cared about me. There was even a neighborhood cat who belonged to us all.

When I moved to King William, I discovered that “home” is a concept we have to keep fighting to uphold. Maybe it’s our proximity to downtown and the San Antonio River, but we’re targets for commercialization and gentrification. We’re constantly fighting the loss of housing stock and quality of life from various forces: the infiltration of infill development zoning, the loss of Main Avenue to H-E-B's headquarters, and bed-and-breakfasts, among many others.

Rose Kanusky holds her cat Kindle at the side entrance of her home in King William.

Bonnie Arbittier / Rivard Report

Rose Kanusky holds her cat Kindle at the side entrance of her home in King William.

When commercial B&Bs started ousting residents, we fought hard for protection. Originally, B&Bs were permitted for residential properties only if the owner lived on the property and freely permitted in properties zoned commercial. In 1999, after several years of public input, City Council supplemented the owner-occupied requirement with two types of density restrictions.

First, the number of rentals or rooms per lot was limited based on zoning. Second, the number of B&Bs per block were limited based on distance – they couldn't be within 300 feet laterally and 150 feet perpendicularly. Non-owner occupied B&Bs were again limited to commercially zoned property.

The density limits worked. They restricted the number of B&Bs in residential districts, at least until the City stopped enforcing the ordinance under the rationale that the same service (B&B) under a new name (Airbnb and others) must be something new – short-term rentals. Never mind that the 1999 ordinance never mentioned food but defined a B&B as “an establishment which supplies temporary accommodations to overnight guests for a fee.”

To quote from the San Antonio Conservation Society’s position statement, “the incredible amount of work that went into the 1999 Bed and Breakfast Ordinance should be reflected in the Short-Term Rental Ordinance. This includes maintenance of required distances between rental facilities.” It should also include the density restriction per lot.

But the draft ordinance does not limit the number of owner-occupied short-term rentals (Type 1) in any given neighborhood, either by the number of rooms or by distance. There is nothing to prevent large homes or small apartments from being cut up into multiple short-term rentals. There is nothing to prevent entire blocks from becoming Type 1 rentals. The term “owner-occupied” is so loosely defined that several lawyers at recent hearings have questioned its viability.

The draft ordinance even allows non-owner-occupied short-term rentals (Type 2) in residential zoning and limits their density only in relation to other Type 2s, but not to B&Bs or Type 1s. Not surprisingly, residential property owners perceive this commercial intrusion as an affront to their property rights. And B&B owners perceive their property rights are under attack because competitors can move in next door when previously they could not.

Wholesale change in certain historic districts has already begun, and we should be concerned about the impact on the block and street level without having to reach an arbitrary threshold of any certain percentage of available housing in the larger area. Just around the corner from me, there are seven Type 2 short-term rentals on one block. In the nearby Lavaca Historic District, there are five short-term rentals within a block of each other. Lucky me, I always wanted to live in a de facto hotel district.

Not really.

Faced with a similar situation, New Orleans banned all short-term rentals from the French Quarter. I am not suggesting such a restriction here, but I am suggesting that all the citizens of San Antonio should be proud of King William, the oldest residential historic district in the state, and we should all advocate for its continued existence as a place where people make their homes and raise their families.

When you live in a neighborhood of long-term residents, some neighbors are fun and friendly. Others are irritating. Some share your values, others don’t. But everyone is invested in ensuring the safety, security, and viability of the neighborhood.

Let me give you a concrete example: One night I awoke to police officers marching down my unlit hallway with flashlights in hand. They were there because my neighbor was walking her dog at 2 a.m. and saw that my front door was open in a darkened house; she didn’t hesitate to call 911. Only a neighbor would have taken this prompt action.

The individual owners of short-term rentals, whether Type 1 or Type 2, may have powerful stories about saving derelict houses or paying their tax bills. The regulation of short-term rentals, however, should not be based on these individual stories. It should be based on collective agreement that the central component of what makes a neighborhood a neighborhood is the people who live there, not the people passing through.


12 thoughts on “Short-Term Rentals Have a Place Until They Displace Neighbors

  1. My neighborhood is under a lot of pressure from commercialization and gentrification as well. Thank you for your perspective and the history lesson many of us probably needed.

  2. That is a stunning summation of a situation so many cities are facing. Investment rentals of all types run the risk of consuming and destroying the very foundation of landmark neighborhoods: intact historic architecture unblemished by “infill”, and a predominance of resident owners. I say, good for New Orleans! And good for you Rose for this great article. We will spread it around up here in San Marcos.

  3. You do not have the right to demand control over other people’s homes or properties. Commercial B&Bs didn’t “oust residents.” Instead, the owners decided to either sell their homes or to convert them to commercial rental properties. (Some may have done so because they love San Antonio and their home here and plan to return to their home later. And because of the high costs involved and the limited pool of people willing to rent whole homes at such a cost on a short-term basis, fears of the whole neighborhood going to whole-home B&B rentals are not very likely.)

    All neighborhoods change over time. King William was an elegant neighborhood, became a slum with homes broken into multiple apartments, and has become an elegant neighborhood again. As a continuation of that latter process, it has never been the “perfect” private home neighborhood. Revitalization (which is another word for gentrification), has involved conversions of some former non-residential properties into apartments and commercial use, has had some infill building not to the quality of the homes already there, etc. So it has been changing all along.

    Choosing where to buy a home is always a form of taking a chance. All neighborhoods continue to change over time. No one ever knows what will happen to the other properties nearby (not just in terms of converting them to other uses, but also in terms of you consider to be deterioration, lack proper maintenance, noise problems [frustrating to you but within the city ordinance limits], nearby undisciplined children, etc.). There is no easy option a homeowner has in regards to the rest of his/her neighborhood. Texas is a strong property-rights state, so trying to control what others to with their own property so that you are happy tends to be a losing effort.

  4. I agree that STRs should be regulated as they are with any other business, but I think your commentary conflates two things that aren’t necessarily related. Should we consider the impacts STRs might have on displacement? Yes, absolutely. We’ve been hearing over and over that there’s a shortage of housing in this city. But are STRs themselves destroying neighborhoods? Absolutely not. I find this rhetoric disturbing, that nightly guests, newcomers, renters, or whatever other group, are somehow a risk to the cohesion or fabric of a neighborhood. When you use terminology like “fight,” “target,” and “infiltration” to describe your experiences in a quaint, historic neighborhood like King William, you are equating your own experiences to places that are in real danger–communities and cities across the globe where war is real, and violence threatens the lives of people living there. It is irresponsible and shouldn’t be an acceptable means of working your agenda. If you really want to keep King William whole, then focus on getting more housing added to your neighborhood, not less.

    • “But are STRs themselves destroying neighborhoods? Absolutely not. ”

      On the contrary. You may take issue with the authors terminology, but that doesn’t negate the very real impact of destroying the fabric of a neighborhood.

      I moved to Lavaca 16 years ago because I fell in love with the neighborhood, which admittedly, then, was quite different. In the years since, we’ve become part of a community. Having no family locally, our neighbors ARE our extended family. They’re the ones I call at 2am when I have to go to the ER and need someone to care for my baby. When our adolescent children are gaining independence and home alone for the first time, they’re the ones we call to pop in to check in (because the kids aren’t answering their phones). They’re the ones we call when we’re panicked we forgot to turn the stove off, and “can you just go over and check to reassure me?” (because we have each other’s keys). And more.

      I was told it was not normal for anyone to know more than 3 of their neighbors. So I can see why people not from here don’t get the idea of community, where 20-30 neighborhood families in our One Square Mile ( are our extended families.

      Our neighbors, mostly, welcome the visitors to Type I STRs, because it’s no different from having a house guest. The owner/primary occupant is responsible for them, and we welcome the visitors to our community. But when there is no long term resident, as is the case for Type II STRs, there is no neighbor, and ultimately, no neighborhood community.

      We have a housing shortage in this city, particularly in the urban core. In Lavaca, the oldest neighborhood in the city, the very real reality is that entire blocks have become hotel zones. This means even fewer properties for families to live. One STR II in a neighborhood doesn’t have a huge impact. Entire blocks of them do. We are working with various developers to develop well thought out housing, with density. An apartment block isn’t going to make up for 6 mini hotels on a block.

  5. With all due respect for your position, it is not the duty or responsibility of an individual property owner to provide housing for a long term renter. It is quite the opposite, a property should and legally has the right to do whatever they want with their property that complies with existing laws and zoning. The fact is that it has already been determined by Texas courts that short term renting is a “residential use” of your property and is permissible. Your concerns about STRs being bad for the neighborhood are just not true – it is quite the opposite in my experience. If you own a STR and want to be successful you must update and take great care of your property – additionally the vast majority of people who rent STRs cause zero issues and are in fact great for local shops and restaurants which STR owners constantly refer them to. According to what I recently read there are now over 2,000 STRs in San Antonio – I would imagine hundreds of thousands of people have stayed in STRs in San Antonio over the past few years. How many issues have there been with Short Term Renters causing any problems? I recall hearing of 1.

    There is an affordable housing problem in our city, but that burden should not be on individual property owners to provide if they choose not to. The problem needs to be solved by the City working with developers to provide incentives to construct affordable housing for workers.


  6. She has attended almost every single STR meeting with this same information. The 1999 ordinance that she is so proud of may have been what the city needed almost 20 years ago. Using the argument of how STR’s are causing a housing shortage and people will no longer know their neighborhoods is bogus. Some of the other historical district residents use the same excuses. I attend several neighborhood meetings and i find it sad that when a discussion about affordable housing development conversation comes up the same people immediately start crying no section 8! Not in my backyard.

  7. I too would like to see the above-stated 1999 B&B Ordinance restrictions placed in the final STR ordinance. Thank you for your thoughts here, Rose.

  8. There is plenty of empty land and derelict buildings in and around Lone Star Brewery site and other parts of south town. The city can impose an additional tax/fee on empty land and empty/derelict houses. This will force them to sell, lower price and definitely bring in more people who want to live there without raising the price of other property significantly. City has already executed something similar with empty buildings in the downtown area in the past 2 years. Ultimately, gentrification is built into the system and is inevitable as property price raises because of demand and the dependency of the school system on property tax combined with insane cut in education budget by the state.

    Personal property rights trump any random neighborhood opinion as long as the property complies with existing zoning laws as noted in a previous comment.

  9. Unless someone is trying to force her to rent her property out – a patently absurd concept – then her property rights have nothing to do with what someone else may or may not choose to do with their own property. In fact, it could fairly be argued that it is her attempting to infringe on the property rights of others here.

  10. While I was reading I found it seems it will take some getting used to having people you don’t know in your neighborhood. But being said there’s so much diversity in San Antonio and that’s what I Love about our City…

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