West Lake Hills residents applying for short-term rental permits will now receive approval directly from the city manager instead of going through the board of adjustment, a decision City Council made Dec. 8.

Short-term rentals allow property owners to rent out their homes for periods of less than 30 days. After establishing the short-term rental ordinance in 2016, the recent update expedites the process for short-term rental applications and removes unrealistic expectations regarding the application process, according to the city.

Mayor Linda Anthony said when the process for short-term rentals was first proposed, the city assumed applications following city code could be approved by the city manager; however, the novelty of the process prompted the council to direct the process through the board of adjustment and allow a public forum. A permit cannot be denied if it follows ordinance and zoning requirements regardless of public opinion, Anthony said.

“Unfortunately I think what has happened is that we have created a sense of false expectations on behalf of the residents,” Anthony said. “We have plenty of safeguards already in place for violations of code, so I really think it is in the best public interest to avoid raising expectations and put this back in the hands of the city administrator.”

Though the public forum has been removed, residents within 300 feet of the proposed short-term rental will still be notified of the permit application. If the application is denied, residents applying for a short-term rental permit have the option to repeal the decision to the board of adjustment, according to city documents. The new process will not change the three-strike policy in place for qualifying complaints against a short-term rental, after which the permit is revoked, according to the city.

The revised ordinance also increases the fees for short-term rental applications from $250 to $500 and the cost of renewal from $250 to $300. The late renewal fee will additionally go from $100 to $150. The raise in fees is to account for the administrative burden and to increase competitiveness with other cities, the city said. The application fee for a short-term rental in Lakeway is $250, compared to $591 in Austin, excluding notification costs.

The council also discussed the potential development of an online citywide map showing all short-term rental locations, including contact information for a designated representative and the ability to see the status of a permit, when it expires and existing strikes for the property, said Ashby Grundman, the city director of building and development services.

“I think this is a great idea because it helps with compliance,” Council Member Brian Plunkett said. “Neighbors are going to know who has a short-term rental next to them and be able to see if it’s not registered. That meets the spirit of what we were trying to accomplish.”