An Airbnb home in Dignowity Hill
An Airbnb home in Dignowity Hill on Lamar Street. Credit: Bonnie Arbittier / San Antonio Report

The City’s Zoning Commission on Tuesday voted 10-1 in favor of a proposed short-term rental ordinance after about three hours of community testimony and commissioner discussion.

The controversial rules that would regulate so-called “homesharing” platforms such as Airbnb, VRBO, and HomeAway in San Antonio will be presented to City Council, which will make the final decision.

Commissioners amended the ordinance with language that could make it harder for non-owner-occupied short-term rentals to open up near established bed and breakfasts.

Council members will have recommendations from the Board of Adjustment, the Planning Commission, and now the Zoning Commission to consider in their deliberations on the short-term rental ordinance. City staff has not yet determined when Council will be briefed on the proposal or when it will vote. Council members on the Community Health and Equity Committee suggested in January that they need more time to speak with constituents and familiarize themselves with the issues before taking a vote.

Click here to download the draft ordinance.

The rules include taxes, fees, applications, and basic safety inspections that would be required for owner-occupied and non-owner occupied properties on the short-term rental market. The process for the latter, called “Type 2” in the ordinance, is more expensive and complicated for property owners – that’s where most of the concern lies. Someone renting out a spare room or garage apartment doesn’t alarm as many neighbors as having an entire home or apartment up for rent every day does.

The draft ordinance was produced by a stakeholder task force that was formed more than one year ago after former City Councilman Mike Gallagher (D10) requested regulations for the emerging industry.

The City estimates there are anywhere between 1,500 and 2,000 short-term rentals in San Antonio, Development Services Department Policy Administrator Michael Dice told commissioners, and that number continues to grow.

Some say short-term rentals take homes and apartments out of the city’s housing stock, especially in historic districts, and allow commercial uses to creep into neighborhoods. Supporters point to the significance of property rights, especially in Texas, and cite investment in short-term rental units that would otherwise be derelict.

A total of 42 citizens signed up to speak during the meeting, and at least a dozen more came to listen in the crowded board room.

Several representatives from the San Antonio Board of Realtors told commissioners that the rules regarding Type 2 rentals were onerous and would divert real estate investment from San Antonio to other cities.

Margaret Leads, resident and King William Association board member, said the Type 2 model is altering the “essential character” of the historic neighborhood.

“I would not want a motel to replace my neighbors,” Leads said.

Anita Ortiz does not live at the downtown properties she lists as short-term rentals, she said, but she would be “forced to sell” if she tried to put it on the long-term rental market at an affordable price.

Under the proposed regulations, new non-owner-occupied listings in residential areas would have to be approved by the Board of Adjustments and its owners would have to pay a $400 fee for the special exemption process. Existing Type 2 listings would be grandfathered in as long as they are registered with the City and pay local Hotel Occupancy Taxes.

Commissioners grappled with specific language in the ordinance regarding property lines, rental density, parking, and other technical details for hours.

After returning from an impromptu executive session to discuss legal matters, Commissioner Patricia Gibbons (D9) suggested that only Type 2 rentals be regulated.

“If you’re in a house and you’re elderly and you need extra income, you [could board someone] for extra income,” Gibbons said, adding that the proposed fees could jeopardize such homeowners’ income.

But a majority of her colleagues disagreed and voted down Gibbons’ motion to remove all mention of Type 1 owner-occupied rentals. Gibbons cast the sole vote against approval of the recommendations Tuesday.

There will always be concerns about how this policy will affect homeowners and renters, said Commissioner Joe Nix (D10), but the ordinance “may be adjusted in the future as things develop. … I’m willing to give it a chance.”

City Council could approve the proposed ordinance as is, amend it further, or reject it altogether.

Correction: The District 9 commissioner’s name is Patricia Gibbons.

This article was originally published on Feb. 6.

Senior Reporter Iris Dimmick covers public policy pertaining to social issues, ranging from affordable housing and economic disparity to policing reform and mental health. She was the San Antonio Report's...