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MultiState's Local Policy Digest explores the top legislative developments from municipalities across the U.S.

D.C. Council approves tight restrictions on short-term rentals.

Last week, the D.C. Council voted to advance a bill to a second reading that limits short-term rentals. If passed, the bill would enact some of the country’s tightest restrictions on short-term rentals, surpassed only by New York City and San Francisco. The measure comes as a check against decreasing numbers of affordable housing units in the city, which some council members said is partially the result of transient renters being favored over long-term tenants (short-term renting can be more lucrative).

In addition to setting up strict guidelines for licensure, the bill bans secondary home rentals, limits vacation rentals to only 90 days a year, and discourages rental property investors by prohibiting homestead deduction beneficiaries from participating. Additionally, the bill eliminates close to 90 percent of the city’s short-term rental market by restricting the practice to only those zones currently allowed to host transient rentals, cutting out rentals in residential areas entirely.

Airbnb lobbied to lessen the bill’s impact on the short-term rental industry. Council Chair Phil Mendelson, however, said the bill is necessary to address complaints of raucous parties, the negative effects of gentrification, and an ongoing affordable housing crisis that he believes short-term rentals have exacerbated.

“What we’re trying to deal with are the adverse consequences from having transient guest traffic in our residential neighborhoods,” Mendelson said. “We have a significant affordable-housing crisis in this city, and to the extent that we’re losing units that could be rented out to tenants, losing them to short-term transient rentals actually hurts us.”

The bill will be heard for its final reading on October 16, 2018.

Austin’s anti-discrimination ordinance faces lawsuit from U.S. Pastor Counci

Earlier this week, the U.S. Pastor Council, a conservative Christian group, filed suit against the city of Austin for its anti-discrimination ordinance, which protects against employment discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. The council argues that the ordinance places an unconstitutional burden on its members’ religious liberties and violates the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The council’s lawsuit alleges that because the ordinance did not exempt churches from compliance, it would force the group’s 25 member churches in Austin to consider LGBTQ applicants for employment and clerical positions.

The ordinance prohibits employers from failing or refusing “to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise discriminate against an individual with respect to compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, based on the individual’s race, color, religion, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, age, or disability.” The ordinance offers two exemptions: one for religious schools and one for religious organizations for which belonging to a specific religion is a necessary qualification for the applicant to perform the job duties. However, the lawsuit argues that these exemptions are not comprehensive enough.

In response to the lawsuit, Austin Mayor Steve Adler said the city intends to defend the ordinance.

“Nondiscrimination is a core value in Austin,” Adler said. “This is a city where we want everyone to have equal opportunity and respect and to feel safe.”

Santa Barbara votes to ban plastic straws, clarifies enforcement provisions.

This week, the Santa Barbara City Council voted to ban the use of plastic straws, stirrers, and other kinds of plastic cutlery at local eating establishments and public events. The vote comes after a media firestorm following the council’s approval of a previous version of the ordinance that was reported to include penalties of fines and jail time for violations. The city claimed this was a misunderstanding, and the newly approved ordinance language was revised to remove all criminal enforcement measures, save a written warning.

Although the ordinance bans the use of plastic straws, stirrers, and other cutlery, it does allow for exceptions to be made in the cases of persons with disabilities and customers who request plastic cutlery, or when offering alternatives to plasticware would create “undue hardship or practical difficulty” or “are not economically feasible for the food provider or beverage provider.” Violators will be issued a written warning following their first offense, and any repeat offenses will be handled by the city. However, the new ordinance language specifies that the ordinance will “not be criminally enforceable.”

The ordinance’s revision was the direct result of media reports that the ordinance could lead to misdemeanor penalties, which the city claims was a “misunderstanding” of how local government works. The city responded by saying that the section of the ordinance in question was “written so broadly that a code enforcement officer or a police officer or the city attorney [had] a way to address violations of local laws.”

The city’s Environmental Services Division’s Public Outreach Coordinator Bryan Latchford said that “jail and fines are not contemplated right now.” He noted, “It is not how we enforce generally; our emphasis for our office is specifically education for compliance. It’s proven to be more successful.”

The ban will take effect on January 1, 2019.

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