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Dallas Still Struggling to Wrap Its Head Around Airbnb Problem

Across North Texas, cities are struggling to figure out how to regulate short-term rentals like Airbnb, Vrbo and HomeAway.EXPAND
Across North Texas, cities are struggling to figure out how to regulate short-term rentals like Airbnb, Vrbo and HomeAway.
iStock/Wachiwit

Airbnb, Vrbo and the rest of their short-term rental brethren appear set to head down the same road traveled by Uber and Lyft five years ago. The Dallas City Council wants a task force, one that will make sure the city gets its cut and will respond to concerned neighbors in the rental hot spots across the city.

Right now, the toughest thing Dallas asks short-term rental owners to do is register their rental with the city and pay a portion of their proceeds in hotel occupancy taxes.

According to city staff, about 400 rental units have been registered with the city out of the 1,200 the city thinks are currently operating in Dallas. Since 2018, Dallas has worked with a company called MUNIRevs to find and contact the owners of short-term rentals it thinks are operating in the city. Data from the partnership is shared with the city's code compliance department, the Dallas Police Department and the city's building inspection department.

Both staff and members of the City Council's Quality of Life, Arts and Culture Committee want better tax collection and, potentially, an ordinance to address concerns from residents about noise, increased parking demand, overcrowding and rentals that are being operated as party houses, rather than hotel alternatives.

"The vast majority of short-term rentals are in my district," Council member David Blewett said. "I get a significant number of neighbors that comment to me about issues."

Blewett represents portions of downtown, Uptown and East Dallas, all of which have large numbers of short-term rentals. He wants the city to come down hard on unregistered operators. 

"I recognize unregulated (short-term rentals) as a threat to our single-family neighborhoods," Blewett said. "I would like to see some kind of a three-strike-and-you're-out method where, if code is called and you aren't registered, it becomes much more difficult to get registered."

Others on the Council worry that taking too tough a line might discourage owners from registering or put Dallas in legal jeopardy.

"I don't want to be so burdensome that our own residents — that are seeing this as an income stream — that we're going to be punishing them as well," said Jennifer Gates, questioning city rules that require owners to pay back hotel taxes if they hope to register their rentals.

Austin passed the toughest short-term rental ordinance in the state in 2016. It required that short-term renters sleep no more than two unrelated adults to a bedroom, called for phasing out non-owner occupied short-term rentals by 2022 and banned parties at short-term rentals between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m. The city promptly got sued.

"I think we need to be extremely cognizant of the fact that we could work hard and then we could be totally preempted," Gates said.

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West and Northwest Dallas Council representative Omar Narvaez lamented the number of short-term rental units that have popped up in multifamily buildings throughout Dallas, but he echoed Gates. He doesn't want to cut off a potential source of income for those who might need it, he said.

"I don't want to over-regulate any of this," Narvaez said, "but I do want to put sensible regulations (in place). I don't want that senior who still lives in their three- or four- or five-bedroom home, maybe who is living alone, to be like, 'Maybe I can rent out a room or two to supplement my retirement' — I don't want to penalize them, but at the same time, I don't want someone running an indoor-slash-outdoor entertainment venue."

Once assembled, Dallas' short-term rental task force is expected to report to the City Council quarterly. If that makes it sound like building a new ordinance could take a long time, that's because it likely will. The city's transportation-for-hire task force convened in January 2014. Its no ordinance went into effect April 30 of the following year.

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