How San Angelo Banned AirBnB.com-Like Short Term Rentals
The city council failed to move on Short Term Rentals, or STRs, after more than 2.5 hours of debate.
Under consideration by the San Angelo City Council was an ordinance amendment that defined STRs and specifically allowed them in residential neighborhoods with regulation and restrictions. Voting for the STR proposal would have codified the sharing economy in the hospitality industry, enabled by web applications like AirBnB.com and HomeAway.com, as legitimate business operations.
Failing to pass the ordinance modifications leaves everything the way it is, albeit after learning from the discussion today the city may enforce a historic ban on STRs. The ban was discovered in an existing ordinance during the three-month STR debate.
The STR agenda item was considered right after the council approved the consent agenda of the last meeting.
Mayor Dwain Morrison opened the floor up for public comment and for about 1.5 hours, citizens for and against STRs addressed the governmental body.
City Planning & Development Services Director Jon James laid out the sides of the debate.
There was a complaint from neighbors about an STR operating next door and the STR owner came to the City offices to obtain approval, James said. It was a new problem for the planning division, he explained, and while originally all he asked the STR operator to do was get registered with the city and the state comptroller so that Hotel Occupancy Taxes are collected, citizens brought up what was already written in the ordinance: That short term rentals, defined as rentals of less than 30 days, were already prohibited.
Rather than shutting down the 31 or so advertised STRs on HomeAway.com and AirBnB.com, James was determined to find a solution.
“The question is do we want to allow them? And if allowed, what are the rules?” James explained.
After working with the City Planning Commission to develop an amended ordinance that allowed but regulated STRs in April, James shepherded the process and today the city council had to agree with the ordinance changes by passing it, table it, or turn it down in defeat.
Many in the debate wanted a firm resolution to the issue. Trinidad Aguirre, who heads the Lake Nasworthy Homeowners Association, spoke first. “This has become antagonistic amongst our neighbors and our board,” he said. He hoped today’s vote will end the debate.
Above: Trinidad Aguirre addresses the city council. (LIVE! Photo/Cameron Niblock)
Attorney Greg Gossett, who lives at the lake and said he had STRs next to him, bemoaned the loss of property value of his and others’ investments. “When a middle class citizen purchases a home, he has hopes there are safeguards in place that the home will maintain its value,” he said.
Lake resident Dawn Ferguson spoke of the problems short-term renters have posed to her home. She said she experienced trespassing and theft, and unleashed dogs. “There is lots of alcohol. The more they drink, and the later in the day it gets, the louder they get,” she said. The STR next to her house has had a negative effect on her, she said.
Citizen Randall Johnson went so far as to suggest that a registered sex offender could rent a home off AirBnB.com and he’d never know because no notification would be required.
Many of the complaints were about crimes already forbidden by Texas Statutes or city ordinances, however.
STR owner Todd Gulley rebuffed them. “I’ve heard one hypothetical case after another,” he said, suggesting that opponents of STRs are offering a life of fear and seclusion. “There’s nothing like a west Texas sunset on our lake,” he said, suggesting that STRs help sell San Angelo to the rest of the world.
Citizen Pat Powell noted that the San Angelo Police Department reported 32 cases of broken glass and windows in the city. “And if you’re listening here, you’d think every one of them was at a short-term rental,” he quipped.
John Bass said that the STR business model is flawed because there is no one on property to manage it like there would be at a Holiday Inn. “There needs to be someone there other than the next door neighbor,” Bass said.
Mike Mitchell, Sr. called the proposal in front of council The Residential Neighborhood Devaluation Ordinance.
After a short break, Mayor Morrison opened the city council’s discussion of the proposed ordinance.
Charlotte Farmer spoke first and mentioned her own experience of renting lake houses near Marble Falls, explaining that she had to make a $2,000-$3,000 deposit and to behave herself. She said she wanted the same consideration in San Angelo. She wanted more time to find a happy median between those for and against STRs, “to protect ourselves, our city and our homes while still welcoming visitors to our city.”
Mayor Morrison said he received 15-20 calls from each side of the debate. “Really, it’s about a 50-50 proposition,” he said.
“If people knew in this city the number of laws and restrictions and ordinances that we have written in the last four years that have taken rights away from them as property owners, I honestly think they would be appalled at what we have taken away. And if we continue taking rights away from property owners for the next four years as we have the last four, the only right you’re going to have as a property owner will be the right to pay taxes,” he said.
Morrison relayed the story of an elderly couple that saved their money to first rent and then purchase their home at the lake. Now older, the husband requires assisted living. She told the mayor that the only way they were able to keep their lake house, their dream home, was to offer it up for short-term rental on the popular websites.
Morrison stated he was in favor of allowing citizens to rent their homes out any way they wished.
“This socialism needs to swing back the other way and to give the people their property, [where they] pay the taxes and the mortgage, give them the right to do what they choose to do with it,” he said.
Morrison felt the proposed ordinance was a good compromise.
Councilman Lane Carter stated the ordinance and current enforcement doesn’t support the new ordinance revisions.
“I’d like to see code enforcement amped up beforehand, before this is to pass,” he said.
Carter also wanted the city to enact a universal vetting process, likely more involved than the ratings system on AirBnB.com, that will assure neighbors of STRs that the people residing next door are desirable. He also wanted the homeowners’ associations to have more authority to regulate STRs.
“Before we go any further, we need to work out some more issues that we’re seeing…” Carter said.
Councilwoman Lucy Gonzalez said she believes STRs give citizens of San Angelo opportunities, and as important, it offers opportunity for families outside of San Angelo to visit and maybe they’ll come back. “In this day and time, people who have homes are very blessed. There are people who have lost their homes and they don’t have one any more, much less a vacation home out at the lake,” she said.
Gonzalez recounted how everyone has a neighbor who doesn’t act like they want him or her to, short-term renter or not.
Gonzalez wanted the opportunity for families who cannot afford to buy a lake house to still be able to enjoy a weekend at the lake via an STR.
Councilman Harry Thomas said he wasn’t a fan of placing another ordinance on the books. He noted that the city already has resource limitations on enforcing the existing ordinances.
“Operators of STRs today are probably doing a better job of promoting San Angelo … and prospecting those individuals to moving here, or returning in some way, than many of us who are trained to promote this great city,” Thomas said.
Thomas was in favor of allowing STRs to continue to operate but he wasn’t sold on the wording of the ordinance.
Councilman Marty Self saw the decision as to not pass the ordinance and let the STR industry “go on” without regulation, or by passing the ordinance revisions add more regulation and enforcement of those laws. Self didn’t believe the city had the code enforcement resources to stop STRs, citing the City of Lubbock, who banned STRs but still has at least 72 in operation today.
Nonetheless, Self preferred to pass the ordinance revisions to require the registration of the STRs at the least.
Councilman Bill Richardson was solidly against STRs. “I believe if you buy a house in a residential area, you are in a residential area,” he said. He said he received 300 calls and only one call in favor of STRs. He said he was voting with the will of his constituents and will be voting against the ordinance revisions. His remarks were met with loud applause from the standing room only audience.
Morrison thanked the citizens for showing up. “That’s the way grass roots democracy is supposed to work,” he said. He then stated that their number, 100 against STRs, was miniscule compared to the population of the city, or about 0.1 percent of the population of San Angelo.
“And this ordinance will take care of 100 percent of the City of San Angelo and not [just] the 9/100s of a percent that is represented by 100 people,” the mayor said. “I don’t want to give up my right to rent my property, whether long term or short term, if I feel that’s what I need to survive.”
Assistant City Manager Rick Weise reminded the mayor that if the ordinance does not pass, STRs would be illegal.
Councilwoman Charlotte Farmer made a motion to postpone the decision. City Manager Daniel Valenzuela agreed that postponing the vote allows him time to resolve some problems the discussion highlighted, particularly where enforcement was concerned. Lane Carter seconded the motion.
The vote to postpone failed 3-4.
Self moved to accept the ordinance revisions and Councilwoman Lucy Gonzalez seconded.
Farmer, Carter, Thomas, and Richardson voted against the ordinance revision. The next time this proposal can come before council is six months from now.
Voting against the ordinance does not indicate one is against STRs and vis versa. The ordinance was intended to define and regulate AirBnB.com rentals.
Based upon today’s discussion, here is how your council member stands on the STR issue:
|Council Member||Short-Term Rentals||Voted to Legalize STRs|
Since the city failed to pass the ordinance, technically STRs are illegal citywide. However, the discovery of their illegality within the existing ordinances did not happen until April 2016, and the law had been on the books for years prior to AirBnB.com or HomeAway.com ever existed.
Many entrepreneurs have made business decisions under the assumption that STRs were legal.
City staff can leave it alone and allow a small group of STR operations to continue as before. But what happens when someone complains about an STR next door?
City code compliance officers are required to investigate, and if an STR situation is discovered, shut it down.
In the meantime, in case of getting turned in to code compliance by neighbors, STR owners can convert their STR to a Bed & Breakfast. The primary difference is the landlord must be present on the property during the rental period.
Expect this issue to return to council. But since the ordinance was voted down, it cannot be considered for six months.