Property Rights Front And Center at City Council

A heated debate is expected today when City Council tries to balance private property rights with regulating the travel trend of roomsharing, Newsradio 1200 WOAI reports.

A growing number of travelers are choosing to rent a house instead of staying in a hotel, thanks to websites like AirBnB and HomeAway.  The city is trying to get a head of the trend by crafting a set of ground rules for homeowners who want to list their place online. 

But Casey Whittington, vice chair of the city planning commission, has concerns about one stipulation that would set a high bar for homeowners who are trying to rent properties that they don’t live in.  They would need to apply for a variance from the Board of Adjustment and seek a SUPER majority vote, which he says is no small feat.

The concern is that the end result would be fewer properties listed for rent at a time when demand is growing.

"It hinders our ability to compete on a national scale for larger conventions," he says.  "People who come to San Antonio want to have a variety of options."

And a proposed density requirement could trigger lawsuits.  Unoccupied rooms for rent would need to be 300 feet apart.  That would set tough restrictions on condos and townhomes.

Whittington says this would harm tourism-centric centers in the city like King William, downtown, southtown, and the pearl.

Mayor Ron Nirenberg says it's important for the city to get the roomsharing rules right, and worries about negative effects on tourism.

"We don’t want to kill an industry that has played a vital role in our economy," he says.

Under the proposed ordinance, the city will set up a database of renters, and identify out-of-city owners. Homeowners who want to rent would then need a permit.  The proposal is heavy on making sure homes being rented to visitors are safe. Floorplans are needed, in case of a fire. There also needs to be a General Liability Insurance policy with minimum limits of 500k.

But one sticking point could be a requirement that home-sharing owners will have to pay their share of city taxes. That would create a level playing field with traditional hotels, who must also pay that tax.

If approved by the city council, it would continue San Antonio down the path of working with emerging technology instead of fighting against it.

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