A level playing field for Texas homeowners

Photo by Todd Wiseman

One of the beautiful aspects of baseball — and there are many — is the unique design of MLB stadiums. From the Ivy Wall in Chicago to the Green Monster in Boston  to Houston’s recently removed Tal’s Hill, stadiums come in all shapes and sizes. However, the basic dimensions and rules of the game remain the same. We might not know whether the Astros are going to win every game, but we do know that it’s going to be a fair game. This consistency of rules creates fair competition, something important beyond just the game of baseball.

The Texas Legislature is considering a statewide bill that would bring this same sense of fairness to short-term residential rentals in Texas — by creating a consistent regulatory playing field for short-term rentals, ensuring all Texans have the opportunity to participate in this dynamic market.

Senate Bill 451 is designed to create statewide standards for home sharing and short-term rentals that end the current state regulatory confusion. The legislation would preserve the ability of localities to pass ordinances to protect the health and safety of their residents and to set rules for noise violations and zoning. However, they would prevent indiscriminate, sweeping bans on short-term rentals that would harm homeowners, travelers and local economies in Texas.

Short-term rentals are part of a sharing economy that gives people the independence to be their own bosses and the flexibility to set their own hours. It also lowers the startup cost of earning income by allowing voters to benefit financially from their residences or second homes. Texans across the state have turned to platforms like Airbnb and HomeAway as a flexible way to supplement their incomes while offering a valuable service to visitors.

For many, this additional income from short-term rentals — which averages $6,100 each year — represents the opportunity to stay afloat during a financially precarious situation, prepare to send their children to college or even save for rainy days. This financial boost can often make a major difference; 58 percent of homeowners use these earnings to cover their rent, pay bills and build savings.

Short-term rentals also provide visitors with greater choice in lodging and offer an authentic Texas experience that traditional hotels do not. Travelers who choose short-term rentals often seek a different type of vacation and therefore have different needs than traditional tourists. The fact is short-term rentals serve entirely different needs from hotels — both in terms of price and location. Families might prioritize the ability to stay together under one roof in a place that looks like home, for example. In other cases, such as during large events like Austin’s SXSW, travelers need to find a room in the midst of a surge in demand. Short-term rentals can and have fulfilled those needs.

But the benefits of short-term rentals don’t just extend to homeowners and visitors — they are an economic boon that reverberates throughout communities. Many hosts provide guests with recommendations, driving visitors towards local favorites — restaurants, attractions, events and so on — found off the typical tourist’s path. Internal analysis conducted by the Internet Association found that short-term rentals spurred $1.5 billion in economic activity and supported 16,000 jobs across the Lone Star State.

Passing a statewide bill would not only create common standards, it would also ensure a fair and even playing field for short-term rentals and the Texans who use them. SB 451 is an exceptional opportunity to create innovative policy solutions to local economic challenges. This statewide solution would clarify overlapping regulatory jurisdictions and eliminate the inefficiency of the today’s patchwork system. Most importantly, it would mean opportunity and prosperity for Texans. I urge the leaders in the state Capitol to protect entrepreneurs, homeowners and small businesses by laying the foundation for future growth with the passage of this legislation.

Disclosure: HomeAway has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

Dustin Brighton

VP, state government affairs, Internet Association