HomeAway rolls out plan to stop party houses

We all know the old saying that “a few bad apples spoil the barrel.” In the short-term rental industry, we have a different take on that adage. We say “a few bad owners can ruin it for everybody.”

At HomeAway, we want to recognize and celebrate the thousands of good property owners and managers who work so hard to provide whole home accommodations to travelers.

We’ve just announced an effort aimed at eliminating the property owners who break the rules and the renters who make neighbors miserable. We are launching Stay Neighborly — an initiative that includes a no-tolerance stance on poor behavior. Austin is our hometown, and our goal is to perfect this program here and then roll it out around the world.

The tedious nomenclature surrounding the issues of short-term vacation rentals in Austin — like Type 1 versus Type 2 short-term rentals (STRs) — can cause plenty of confusion.

But when you take a step back and look at the facts, not myths — the Texas heritage of protecting private property rights simplifies everything: People who own houses, who appropriately rent their property and obey fair, enforceable rules reserve the right to rent the property to people who, likewise, promise to play by the rules.

Type 2 short-term rentals are frequently painted with a very broad and very sticky brush, and that is unfortunate. Essentially, a Type 2 rental is a house owned by someone who does not live in that house but who rents it out on a short-term basis, advertising on such services as HomeAway or VRBO. These are not party houses. The homes are owned and operated lawfully and without disturbance to the neighborhoods surrounding them.

We applaud the city’s current one-year moratorium on issuing Type 2 permits and believe it’s given everyone some breathing room to see how things can be when they’re done right. We were very unpleasantly surprised, however, to learn that some councilmembers plan to reopen this divisive issue next week.

It has been widely known that the Type 2 problem properties totaled FOUR properties citywide. These were the properties that rented to groups of 20, held loud parties, parked dozens of cars up and down the street and left multiple bags of trash in their wake. We believe that the City of Austin’s effort to policing these properties has put a stop to these unacceptable situations. There is no room for this activity in Austin or on HomeAway sites.

Short-term rentals are important in a city like Austin, where certain events such as South by Southwest, the Austin City Limits Music Festival and football weekends overrun hotel room availability. The key to a short-term rental industry that works for everybody — owners, travelers and neighbors — is clear, unambiguous regulation that encourages compliance and provides for quick and sure punishment when rules are broken.

Our 1,100 Austin-based employees care deeply about this company and about the service we provide to property owners and travelers here in our hometown and worldwide. If you agree with me that we can Stay Neighborly without a ton of onerous and unenforceable new regulations and more weeks of rehashed debate, please let your city councilmember know that the moratorium is working and that you do not want this whole issue to come back until the fixes already in place are given a chance to work.

-Brian

Brian Sharples is Co-Founder and CEO of HomeAway, a global company headquartered in Austin.

This post originally appeared as an op-ed in the Austin Business Journal.