The intersection of Kayton Avenue and South New Braunfels Avenue in Highland Park
Property rights are a key component of short-term rental policy formulation in San Antonio. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

The San Antonio City Council recently had its first opportunity to review new proposals aimed at regulating the homesharing industry in San Antonio. In developing a proposed ordinance for short-term rentals, City leaders have consistently stressed the need to balance the rights of property owners with concerns about safety and maintaining the integrity of the city’s neighborhoods.

Unfortunately, the proposed ordinance does not achieve this balance. As an organization dedicated to protecting the rights of homeowners, the San Antonio Board of Realtors (SABOR) opposes its adoption. Not only does the proposed ordinance infringe on the rights of property owners, its provisions are also based on anecdotal evidence, at best, and they attempt to solve problems that can be better addressed by homeowners’ associations and enforcement of existing regulations.

SABOR strongly opposes local efforts to undermine the rights and protections of property owners guaranteed by the Texas and U.S. Constitutions. As District 8 Councilman Manny Pelaez commented, “I can’t think of anything less Texan than telling people who they can or can’t rent their property to.”

SABOR and Pelaez are not alone in that contention. During the last session of the Texas Legislature, state Sen. Kelly Hancock (R-North Richland Hills) introduced SB 451, a measure that would have prevented cities from banning short-term rentals and severely limited the ability of cities to pass ordinances restricting the practice.

While SB 451 did not make it to the Governor’s desk last year, it is likely that lawmakers will take up similar legislation in 2019. If passed, such legislation would override ordinances in cities like Austin, which is facing a court battle over its homesharing regulations. San Antonio could find itself in a similar situation, all for the sake of an ordinance that might ultimately be negated by the Texas Legislature.

One of the goals of the San Antonio ordinance is to protect the rights of neighborhoods. But there is no evidence that short-term rentals are actually endangering those neighborhoods. Neither city staff nor the task force that drafted the ordinance provided data from police call logs, code enforcement activity, or other public records that demonstrate any link between short-term rentals and alleged adverse impacts to the community.

Neighborhood and homeowners’ associations, which are in a better position to determine what’s best for their members than a one-size-fits-all city ordinance, are already dealing with the issues the draft ordinance purports to address. Without a demonstrated need, why pass an ordinance with its associated enforcement costs that add to the city budget?

The proposed ordinance also lacks specifics on crucial issues, including the parameters of an inspection and definitions for what is considered to be appropriate action by an owner in response to complaints against a short-term rental occupant. Such ambiguity is an invitation to both abuse and legal challenges.

The draft ordinance imposes special requirements on rental properties that are not owner-occupied because they allegedly represent a unique threat to the health, safety, and overall fabric of a neighborhood. Again, however, staff and the task force have failed to marshal empirical evidence that such properties threaten a neighborhood’s integrity or the quality of life of its residents.

While the provisions of the proposed ordinance and its need are murky, the benefits of the short-term rental industry are clear. During the third quarter of 2017 alone, Airbnb-listed properties in San Antonio generated revenue of nearly $3.7 million, according to hotel-industry research firm Source Strategies Inc. That revenue has been crucial to the revitalization of neighborhoods across the city, encouraging individual investors to buy distressed homes, renovate them, and add them to the city’s affordable housing stock.

Let’s preserve private property rights while allowing the nascent homesharing industry to flourish. Whatever issues city staff and the task force believe are associated with short-term rentals can be addressed through enforcement of San Antonio’s existing noise, public nuisance, property maintenance, and parking regulations. What isn’t needed is a vague new ordinance that would almost certainly be challenged in court and that will likely be nullified by the Texas Legislature.

Lorena Peña

The city’s largest professional trade association, the San Antonio Board of REALTORS® (SABOR), elected Lorena Peña as the 2018 chairman of the board. A top-producing Realtor with The Osburn Peña Group...