Groups such as Texas Neighborhood Alliance want short-term rental listings that can be found on sites like Airbnb and VRBO to be outlawed in residential neighborhoods. Those groups are fighting against “party houses” that they say attract noise, crime, trash and parking problems for a neighborhood’s permanent residents.
In Plano, short-term rentals have been involved in a recent shooting and a brothel bust. Arlington and Fort Worth have each instituted regulations for where short-term rentals can be located, with the latter banning them in residential areas. The newly announced ordinance in Fort Worth dictates that “A local responsible party must be available 24/7 to respond to concerns at the property. The local responsible party may be the property owner or an operator working on behalf of the owner” and that no more than 12 people can stay inside the property, among other guidelines.
As long as a short-term rental property is legally registered with the city, it is subject to the city’s hotel occupancy tax. But recent estimates suggest that the number of short-term rentals registered with the city is a far cry from the number of listings available in Dallas.
Whether being subject to the hotel occupancy tax in fact makes a short-term rental a hotel, as of now at least, depends on which side of the debate you’re on. And the question of whether it's fair to penalize a large group of short-term rental operators for the actions of the bad actors is a fair one.
During last week’s Quality of Life, Culture and Arts committee meeting, council member Paula Blackmon, who represents District 9, expressed her willingness to consider a plan that would let individual neighborhoods decide whether to allow short-term rentals. Such an approach could be an agreeable compromise for an issue that’s been kicked around a good bit over the years.
“When we talk about neighborhood self-determination, I think there should be a process where neighborhoods can have this discussion,” – Paula Blackmon, Dallas City Counciltweet this
“When we talk about neighborhood self-determination, I think there should be a process where neighborhoods can have this discussion,” Blackmon told the Observer. “It’s also a way for the city to maybe not get sued. If we say it's all illegal in residential areas, but also have a process that allows neighborhoods to opt-in, then such a law doesn't seem so harmful.”
Blackmon isn’t sure what a neighborhood opt-in plan would consist of just yet, which is why she says she wants the council to discuss it before a vote occurs. Of course, a program that allows a neighborhood to choose to allow short-term rentals within its boundaries will involve jumping through a few hoops, something Blackmon understands isn’t likely very appealing to many residents.
“There would be a process, and as you probably know, going through any process at the city level can be pretty cumbersome,” she said. “I think a lot of people would rather cut their wrists than have to go to City Hall to get something through.”
The opt-in idea isn't new. Ashley Guevara, public affairs officer for the city, told the Observer in an email that it was introduced to the Quality of Life, Arts and Culture Committee last year, but it didn't go further. Ryan said that an opt-in plan for short-term rentals could model after a program already in place.
"Currently, residential neighborhoods in Dallas can follow an ‘opt-in’ process to allow the construction of Accessory Dwelling Units (think garage apartments, granny cottages, etc) in the area," Ryan wrote in her email. "There is a neighborhood petition process that must be followed, along with community meetings, and if approved, creates an overlay district that allows one additional unit to be constructed on each lot. To date, no neighborhoods in Dallas have started this process. A short-term rental opt-in overlay could follow the same process."
The rights of homeowners to live in quiet, safe neighborhoods haven’t been a point of contention, but the rights of private property owners to do what they wish with their homes has certainly been a sticking point in the short-term rental debate. Blackmon said she has heard from her constituents on both sides of the topic, and she’s trying to be pragmatic about how the council approaches this decision.
“I want to know what it would look like for a neighborhood to be able to opt-in to allowing short-term rentals,” she said. “If it doesn't make sense for them to allow them, then at least they had that discussion. The best thing to do is to have these discussions in an open forum.”