In just less than a day, thousands of people will descend upon Austin with their badges, cameras, and unbridled enthusiasm to explore every inch of our city for South by Southwest. Say goodbye to Hopdoddy, Franklin BBQ, and East Side King–they’ll be inundated by swarms of Anthony Bourdain enthusiasts and self-proclaimed foodies. Are you ready, Austin?

Many Austinites, like our marketing manager Tony Emerson, have opted to excuse themselves from the madness by conveniently going out of town on a Disney cruise. Others are taking full advantage of the entrepreneurial spirit of SXSW by listing their homes on vacation rental sites like HomeAway and Airbnb, thus allowing them to both enjoy some quiet from the crowds as well as make a few extra bucks (or a few hundred extra bucks, rather) during the two-week whirlwind.

This isn’t the first time that Austin has resorted to short-term vacation rentals for big events–Austin City Limits, Formula 1, and previous SXSW festivals have brought an increase in short-term listings–and with good reason. According to the official SXSW factsheet, 2012 saw 50,814 room nights booked in 76 official hotels and 11,582 individual reservations. With some hotels fully-booked since December, some Austinites are taking advantage of the high demand for space by offering up their own homes.

And why not? It’s an easy way to make money while extending some Austin hospitality to out-of-towners. Demand is high and space is coveted–listings as far as five miles from the city center are up to the hundreds per night. But some first-time, last-minute Airbnb users, like Christina Alfonso, owner of Me So Hungry, told me that the overall process can be overwhelming and even a little discouraging.

“Airbnb is incredibly organized, but I’ve also been able to scope out the competition in my area. It’s not far from Sixth Street, so it’s a really great spot. But since I didn’t submit my listing until last week, I haven’t been listed for a long time. Plus I haven’t had a whole lot of experience or exposure, since there’s a lot of competition–the last time I checked, there were over 410 residences for lease on the East Side alone. So far, I’ve only had one person reach out to me and offer me considerably less than what I asked for.”

“There was a lot of preparation to get my house together,” Christina added. “I had to take out my clothes, find a place for my three cats and dog, find a place for myself–it’s such a hassle, so when someone offers a really low amount, it’s almost kind of insulting.”

There was one positive out of preparing her home for potential renters, however. Christina told me that the process was helpful for decluttering her house.

“I have two storage units in my backyard, so I haven’t had to pay an extra amount of money to make that happen.”

Still, Airbnb can be a great option and a rewarding experience. If you’re thinking about renting out your home or apartment last-minute for SXSW, however, it’s absolutely imperative to educate yourself on the rules and regulations that have recently popped up surrounding short-term vacation rentals.

Last October, the city of Austin passed a resolution regulating short-term rentals, defined by the city as a period lasting less than 30 days. The resolution splits short-term rentals into two categories: owner-occupied (Type I) and non-owner-occupied (Type II). Type II properties (which represents most Airbnb listings) must have the appropriate license.

You can read the full ordinance and rules here, but the important takeaway for new and last-minute Airbnb users is to do the research on your city and state’s regulation codes. Failure to do so could result in citations, or worse: thousands of dollars in fines. New York City, for example, has a law in place stating that it is illegal to rent full apartments for less than 30 days. Unfortunately, many Airbnb users do not read the Terms and Conditions warning renters to familiarize themselves with the laws before listing on the site.

“We are a marketplace with over 300,000 listings in 35,000 cities around the world,” said an Airbnb spokesperson on behalf of the company. “The guidelines around short term rentals vary widely by city, and even by neighborhood…By joining our community and agreeing to our Terms of Service, users promise to comply with applicable laws and regulations. We believe that laws and regulations are most effectively enforced by the appropriate legal authorities. In addition to our Terms of Service, we remind hosts to learn how to host responsibly, including through our hosting responsibilities page, which can be found on the bottom of every page on the site.”

The city of Austin is also currently working on an online map that lists every short-term license. The idea has been met with uproar from those renting their properties, who argue that it will make them much more susceptible to burglary. Many neighborhood organizations, however, support the idea, claiming that they have a right to know which homes are being used as “hotels.”

Most Airbnb users like Christina, however, think that the site is a great way to experience new places. When I asked if she would use Airbnb in the future, she said she was definitely open to the idea.

“Austin is a great place, and you don’t get the full effect through a hotel room. [Airbnb] is a great way to experience what the neighborhood has to offer, and I don’t have a problem with it, as long as it’s good people. I don’t know how much luck I would have with ACL, since I live on the East Side, but it might be worthwhile for anything else. My friends told me that people who visit just want to be downtown. Would it be worth my while to go and stay in Pflugerville for a week or two if someone just wanted to experience East Austin? Definitely.”

You can find Christina at Me So Hungry behind Cheer Up Charlies on East 6th Street during SXSW–stop by, have some delicious food, and say hello! And don’t forget to come to The SpareFoot Party this Friday, March 8 at The North Door. The party starts at 8:00pm sharp. Start drinking water now.

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