The San Antonio City Council unanimously approved new zoning and infill development rules.
The San Antonio City Council unanimously approved new zoning and infill development rules. Credit: Scott Ball / San Antonio Report

After nearly two years and more than two dozen community and task force meetings, San Antonio City Council will again consider rules aimed at regulating the thousands of short-term rentals (STRs) that have cropped up across the city.

Council heard a first set of recommendations in April, but sent them back for further additions and adjustments. That feedback from Council members, “in consultation with both District 1 and the Mayor’s Office, has been incorporated into the modified proposal,” according to the City’s website.

The proposal would prohibit housing projects that received City incentives from becoming STRs and includes density limits for some STRs according to the area zoning, a reduced registration fee, a ban on STRs used for events such as weddings and other parties, a certification process that would allow owners to self-certify safety and code compliance, and clarification of other rules. Click here to download a summary of changes to the ordinance that have been made since April and here for a draft copy of the ordinance.

Density limits, proposed by Councilman Roberto Treviño (D1), replaced a controversial requirement for all non-owner occupied, or “Type 2,” units to apply for a special exemption from the City’s Board of Adjustment. Instead, the revised proposal would require that no more than 12.5 percent of units on a residential block be used as a Type 2 STR; only one unit in multifamily buildings with one to seven units be a Type 2 STR; and no more than 12.5 percent of units in a multifamily building with eight or more units be Type 2 STRs. Existing STRs would be “grandfathered in,” or allowed to operate even if they are in violation of the new density rules. The Board of Adjustment would be in control of further density exemptions.

Each STR unit would require proof of one designated off-street parking spot in residential areas, according to the proposal draft.

The City currently does not have any regulations for the homes, casitas, apartments, condos, rooms, or couches that visitors rent via online platforms such as Airbnb, HomeAway, and VRBO. Thousands of homeowners have taken advantage of these platforms to supplement their income and, in some cases, utilize property otherwise unappealing to long-term tenants.

But not all STR operators are locals, and some inner-city neighborhoods – especially those in historic districts – have seen significant portions of housing stock become STRs. Some neighbors fear this puts them in the middle of a “hotel district” rather than a neighborhood with lasting community connections.

Policymakers have long said they hope to strike a balance between concerns about and benefits of STRs. An outright ban would weaken the city’s ability to attract visitors and potentially cause operators to run their STRs in a kind of black market. The absence of regulation, however, allows for abusive proliferation.

The City also wants to start collecting more of the Hotel Occupancy Tax (HOT) it is owed – and typically not paid – by STR operators. While the State HOT is automatically collected through most platforms, local operators are responsible for paying both the City and State tax where applicable.

“Based on the proposed ordinance, permit-related revenue is estimated at $100,000 for year 1, $20,000 each for years 2 and 3, and $120,000 for year 4, and is also expected to generate additional Hotel Occupancy Tax,” according to the City’s calculations. “Staff will monitor the volume of applications and compliance to determine if additional staff is necessary for efficient implementation of the proposed ordinance.”

The City’s Development Services Department estimated in April that enforcing the ordinance would require seven additional employees. Funding for those positions would come from registration fees.

Repeat violations of new rules and existing code (noise, trash, etc.) would result in a revocation of permits. “The enforcement of city rules and regulations will be a joint effort of DSD’s Code Enforcement and SAPD,” the proposal reads.

During the most recent session of the Texas Legislature, a new state law regarding short-term rentals almost came to fruition but eventually was halted in a House committee. The statewide law, largely supported by short-term rental platform companies, would have overridden almost all local rules. City officials expect that legislative fight to continue into the next session.

Iris Dimmick

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and workforce development. Contact her at iris@sareport.org