Western Travis County short-term rental rules aim to manage visitors' behavior

Since 2016, short-term rental properties have been regulated in the western Travis County cities of West Lake Hills and Lakeway.

Since 2016, short-term rental properties have been regulated in the western Travis County cities of West Lake Hills and Lakeway.

Local rules aimed at maintaining a quality of life for homeowners during the Austin area's annual festival season appear to be helping that goal by managing the behavior of short-term visitors, according to public records.

In West Lake Hills, rules require property owners to pay a fee and adhere to a set of regulations if they want to rent their home for periods of less than 30 days. More than a year after the implementation of that ordinance, the rules seem to be working.

Since West Lake Hills' ordinance came into effect in fall 2016, zero complaints have been received, and 8 permits have been renewed. Since the city’s STR ordinance is relatively new, the majority of 20 current permits have not hit their one-year renewal date, city staff said.

The city's mayor said the process to develop the ordinance was aimed at being transparent.

“We formed a subcommittee after receiving complaints from residents in multiple neighborhoods about noise, safety concerns, litter [and] increased traffic that STRs can generate,” Mayor Linda Anthony told Community Impact Newspaper.

“We held numerous public hearings, conducted a citywide survey and worked in crafting an ordinance that would balance the interests of all of our residents.”

Place One Council Member Rhonda McCollough said there were two sets of STR complaints from neighbors. "One related to parking and late night traffic at an STR on North Peak.  Another set concerned filming of a television show in a home rented for that purpose on Live Oak Circle," McCollough said in an email.

"We recommended a permitting process, with restrictions on who could get a permit (WLH residents only),  a limit for each permit holder to a single permit, along with enhanced enforcement of existing nuisance ordinances would be the most even handed approach. This was adopted by the city council with minimal changes,' she said.

Lakeway's STR story

In Lakeway, prior to implementing its own short-term rental ordinance in 2016, Mayor Joe Bain said the city was also receiving complaints from homeowners living near short-term renters.

“[City police] could cite the renters and they would stop the offending activity [but] it started up the next weekend again,” he wrote in an email. “We needed a way to tie issues back to the owner of the property to affect the way [it] was managed.”

The ordinance has succeeded, Bain said, and police calls have dropped.

“Owners and [property] managers have become more aware of the issues they were causing and have in most cases corrected the activity,” he said.

In Lakeway, after the STR ordinance took effect in Jan. 2016, city staff took 26 complaints through Feb. 2018. Three violation notices were issued and one permit was rescinded due to complaints and violations.

Of the 25 permits issued, 7 homeowners have renewed since the adoption of the new rules. Currently, 17 properties are on the city of Lakeway’s waiting list. They will not be approved until a current permit holder relinquishes or loses their permit.

Rollingwood Mayor Roxanne McKee said the consensus within her city has remained strongly opposed to the operation of short-term rentals. Rollingwood banned STRs entirely in 2010.

The city of Bee Cave has no short-term rental ordinance. It is unclear how many homeowners could be renting their properties to visitors in the city, City Manager Travis Askey said.

The future of STRs in Texas

In 2017, municipalities saw an attempt from the legislature to curtail STR rules.

State Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, unsuccessfully tried to limit Texas cities’ ability to write ordinances restricting STRs and also to prevent municipalities from banning short-term rentals.

“Senate Bill 451 expressly protects local governments’ ability to impose reasonable regulations, such as residential zoning restrictions, to ensure the health and safety of the people and communities they serve,” Hancock said in a statement from the spring of 2017.

The Senate passed Hancock’s bill, but both SB 451 and a similar House bill languished in the House without receiving committee votes. The senator’s 2019 legislative package has not been finalized, according to his communications staff.

"Since short-term renting became mainstream, thousands of Texas homeowners have chosen to use their private property as a source of income to help make ends meet," said Hancock in a 2017 statement.

"In Texas, we still believe property rights are a foundational freedom worth protecting.”

“I expect the same fight in the upcoming session, Bain said. “I am hopeful our representatives will be willing to make allowances for regulations that enhance the quality of life for our residents. My opinion is people move into a neighborhood to have neighbors, not a commercial rental next door.”

In West Lake Hills, the ordinance is open to annual review. "We left the door open to review the effectiveness of the ordinance based on both citizen input and enhanced record keeping on permitted STRs for compliance with all city ordinances," McCollough said. "We reviewed compliance and number of permits issued in 2017, and will do so again in the fall of 2018."

Anthony said she thinks the ordinance in West Lake Hills has been effective to date.

“I hope the Legislature will be mindful of the need to let communities determine their own standards as expressed by a majority of their residents, Anthony said.

Editor's note: This online version adds comment from West Lake Hills Place One Council Member Rhonda McCollough that did not appear in the print version due to space limitations. McCollough told Community Impact Newspaper prior to running for City Council, she volunteered to be a member of her city's STR committee, which was formed to research how best to approach the growing number of STRs in West Lake Hills.

By Rob Maxwell
Rob Maxwell joined the world of print journalism and Community Impact in Sept. 2017 as editor of the Lake Travis - Westlake edition. He previously enjoyed a successful and rewarding career in radio and television news. In his spare time, Rob can be found scoping out area climbing walls and hiking trails. He lives in Cedar Park with his wife and daughters and looks forward to receiving his LCP edition of Community Impact Newspaper every month.


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