Arguing short-term rental regulations — from experience

Photo by Shelby Knowles for The Texas Tribune

In November, I wrote an op-ed for TribTalk recounting my experience as an Austin homeowner whose neighborhood has been overrun by short-term rentals (STRs) and expressing my support for the city’s code governing these properties. I received a largely positive response and became connected with a group of hundreds of local residents calling for reform.

Imagine my surprise then, when I read another TribTalk op-ed taking issue with mine, and calling my story a “fictional exaggeration.” The authors, both of whom work for the Texas Public Policy Foundation, an organization that filed a lawsuit against the City of Austin challenging the constitutionality of its short-term rental laws, chose to defend their position by trying to tarnish my reputation. They suggest, simply, that I lied.

I did not.

Before calling me dishonest in a public forum, where anyone with internet access might find the story and draw negative conclusions about my character, the authors could have contacted me. Had they asked for documentation of my claims, I would have readily offered it. Because they did not, I am forced to do so here.

Still, I hesitate. I have no interest in escalating a back-and-forth in a time of contentious political dialogue. I understand we will not land on the same side of this issue, and that a variety of perspectives deserve to be heard. But as an individual who reached out to tell her story, my silence would neither help me nor the ideal of honest and fair debate.

Let me set the record straight:

  • The authors maintain there are not seven STRs within eyesight of my house, basing their rebuttal on city records. In fact, in early November I contacted City of Austin code enforcement and my city council representative, Kathie Tovo, to inform them of the seven STRs within 700 feet of the start of my street. I included clear documentation with links to the STR listings on VRBO (Vacation Rentals By Owner) and Airbnb. Only two of those homes are owner-occupied, and standing in front of my house, I can see all seven.
  • The authors say I have never filed a 911 or 311 complaint about the STR problems on my street. While that is true, it doesn’t mean I haven’t experienced the problems I wrote about, including loud parties, overflowing trash cans and late-night tourist arrivals. It simply means I can distinguish between things that affect my quality of life and things that break the law. Only for the latter will I call the police.
  • The authors argue disruptive behavior is equally possible in a long-term rental, to which I say, in theory, yes. But I write as someone who lives beside a duplex advertised as sleeping 10 on both sides and “ideal for larger groups.” I have experienced what a short-term party site can lead to. With long-term renters, you have neighbors with whom you can negotiate and create trust. With short-term rentals, you have tourists who have no investment in your community.

It’s a tenuous time, and speaking publicly often places individuals under fire. I do not expect all TribTalk readers to concur with my position, and I appreciate the opportunity to share my perspective. However, I did not expect my good reputation — earned personally and professionally — to be a casualty of my doing so. Nor do I believe silence is an option.

I would like to believe we can disagree on issues while still treating one another with respect. In fact, that may be the most important thing we can do right now if we are to continue to live and thrive together.

Vivé Griffith

Writer and educator