HomeAway Launches “Stay Neighborly” Pilot Program in Austin

Brian Sharples, CEO of HomeAway with supporters of the short-term rental industry in Austin.

Brian Sharples, CEO of HomeAway with supporters of the short-term rental industry in Austin.

At its downtown headquarters, HomeAway launched a pilot program Wednesday in Austin called “Stay Neighborly.”

“Austin is a very small part of our global business,” HomeAway CEO Brian Sharples said.

But HomeAway is a hometown business and it’s part of the Austin community, he said during a press conference. HomeAway, a subsidiary of Expedia, is the world leader in vacation rentals with sites representing more than one million paid listings of vacation rental homes in 190 countries.

“We intend to reset the conversation on short-term rentals to reflect the current landscape of the industry, especially in Austin,” Sharples said. “It’s time to shine a light on the thousands of property owners and managers who strengthen the Austin visitor experience and help get rid of those who don’t represent the spirit of what is now a preferred travel accommodation option.”

HomeAway has been embroiled in controversy for years now around short-term rentals, but that controversy concerns just four homes in the city, which have since been taken off the HomeAway site, he said.

The Stay Neighborly initiative includes a no-tolerance policy for disruptive behavior of short-term home rental owners and travelers.

Next week, on Feb. 23rd, the Austin City Council will consider whether to phase out type two rental homes, which are second homes where the owner doesn’t reside there. This industry has existed for decades and a few bad actors shouldn’t end an industry, Sharples said. He not only co-founded the company but he also owns a short term rental.

Among the 400,000 dwellings in Austin, there are 400 Type 2 rentals and short term-rentals have contributed an estimated $234 million to the local economy in 2014, alone, according to HomeAway.

Some homeowners have complained to the Austin City Council about Type 2 rental homes. They complain some of the homes, in densely populated residential neighborhoods, have become party homes. Type 1 rental homes are more like AirBnB’s business in which the homeowner resides on the property and rents out a spare room.

“We do not see the need for overly restrictive regulations where the system is actually working pretty well,” said Jay Reynolds, Austin Rental Alliance, nonprofit association of homeowners.

“Short term rentals, aside from the incredibly few bad actors, tend to be the best neighbors on the block,” Reynolds said. “We keep our yards and our homes clean and they are maintained and very safe for guests.”

HomeAway’s new Stay Neighborly effort is designed to promote compliance and provide guidelines to remove those who violate local nuisance regulations from HomeAway websites.

Elliott and Sheri Mitchell own a rental cottage in the South Congress area. They’ve run it for four and half years and they compile with all of the city regulations, Elliott Mitchell said. They’ve had hundreds of people stay in the cottage and they have never had any problems, he said.

“It’s been a perfect win-win situation for us and the people we serve,” he said.

The income they get from the rental is part of their retirement portfolio and they want to continue to rent the property to guests, Mitchell said.

“We’re troubled by the possibility that we may get regulated out of business for something that is non-existent,” he said.

In Austin, more than 2,500 people work in the short term rental business, said Davina Bruno, director of the Coalition of Short-Term Rental Employees, which represents house keeper and maintenance workers. The industry contributes more than $230 million to the economy, she said.

“There’s a huge economic impact from this industry,” Bruno said. “We don’t believe in changing an ordinance because of a few problematic property owners should be going through especially since there are so many jobs that will be impacted.”

Roy Spence, co-founder of GSD&M, a neighbor to HomeAway, said HomeAway is a great neighbor.

“The people of Austin are good people, the homeowners of Austin are good people. The people who come to visit Austin and stay in our hotels and homes are good people,” Spence said. And 99 times out of 100, good people will make good neighbors, he said.

When Austin is at its best, the city champions entrepreneurs, Spence said. When Austin is at its best, it champions new ideas and supports new ideas, and allows organizations and businesses to improve, adapt and change to new challenges, he said.

“I hope we just keep the rules on the books, and let them stay neighborly and give HomeAway and the entrepreneurs who own homes a chance to stay neighborly,” Spence said.

HomeAway is committed to be part of the solution in Austin and everywhere HomeAway has homeowners, said Tom Hale, Chief Operating Officer of HomeAway.

The program features an educational resource center online with information on licensing, tax compliance and regulation by community.

“We take this issue very seriously,” Hale said. “We want to make sure short term rentals work for everyone, the community, the owners, the renters. You have our word on it.”

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  1. […] Silicon Hills News reports that a pilot program is set to kick off in none other than Austin, entitled “Stay Neighborly” which among other things will help ensure that renters are complying with city ordinances. Of particular interest is a new no-tolerance policy in the plan which identifies owners who don’t want to play nice and follow the rules. […]

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