With concert venues and bars shuttered because of the pandemic, makeshift nightclubs have cropped up in residential neighborhoods by way of short-term rentals from web-based companies such as Airbnb and Vrbo. Many Dallas homeowners have complained of an increase in noise and litter, while others say they fear an uptick in crime.
District 14 council member David Blewett, who represents portions of downtown, Uptown and East Dallas, said a majority of the short-term rentals fall within his district. They're a critical threat to the future of single-family neighborhoods, he said; one "problem house" can easily ruin an entire block.
“We’re supposed to do short-term rentals so people can have options and flexibility,” Blewett said. “We’re not supposed to turn single-family neighborhoods into entertainment areas.”
Blewett and District 9 council member Paula Blackmon helped lead a short-term rental task force that presented several recommendations to the Quality of Life, Arts, and Culture Committee on Tuesday, including occupancy and noise limits. During the virtual meeting, Blewett said many of his constituents would like to see an outright ban on short-term rentals.
Other council members also empathized with single-family neighborhood residents who are plagued by perpetual parties.
“If my neighbor next door put a party house in the backyard that they rented out nightly for parties with 20 to 30 people, that is like my worst nightmare,” said District 1’s Chad West.
Airbnb "superhost" Lisa Sievers rents out two properties near Dallas' Forest Hills neighborhood. She said it's a way for her to make extra money on the side, and she enjoys getting to interact with guests.
Sievers said she understands that no one wants to live next to a party house — she wouldn't want to either — but hopes that City Council will also keep hosts in mind. Airbnb is a good, viable option to staying in a hotel, she said, and it likely isn't going away any time soon.
There has to be a way "we can all live together without upsetting the neighbors," she said.
“Out of all the thousands of Airbnbs that are in the Dallas ... area, I have a feeling that the bad apples are a very small minority of that," Sievers said. "And so I don’t think it’s going to take a sledgehammer when some tinkering will probably do.”
The problem with short-term rentals is that it’s difficult to hold an owner accountable, Blewett told the Observer. Many operators also skip registering and paying hotel occupancy taxes owed to the city.
Hotels were paying 97% of the city’s hotel occupancy taxes as of Sept. 30, assistant city manager Joey Zapata said during Tuesday’s meeting. Although there were 2,161 short-term rental properties on record at the end of December, Blewett said the number could be closer to 5,000.
That’s why it’s important to create a “self-enforcing” ordinance to ensure that short-term rental hosts who don’t register or pay their taxes will incur penalties, Blewett said.
“We’re going to catch you, and it’s going to be real simple,” he said. “It’s not going to take a lot of time: If you’re not registered, we’re going to get you.”
Sievers suggested that Dallas City Council investigate whether it could collect taxes directly from Airbnb itself, which would take the onus off hosts from calculating and paying dues on a monthly basis.
In 2019, Airbnb announced a global ban on party houses and last September removed or suspended more than 80 Texas listings that violated the company’s party and event policies. Jose Luis Briones, Airbnb’s public policy manager for Texas, said the company has also worked with Dallas leadership on rules that will “protect neighborhoods while preserving property rights.”
Still, Dallas has continued to grapple with around 40 problem houses, Blewett said.
Yet a full-on ban doesn’t seem likely, in large part because of potential legal troubles. Austin imposed sweeping short-term rental regulations in 2019, for instance, but a state appeals court struck down parts of the rules as unconstitutional, according to the Austin American-Statesman.
Plus, many well-meaning travelers love using companies like Airbnb because of the flexibility they provide, Blewett said, and rule-abiding homes shouldn’t be the ones penalized. That’s why the city will fix its attention on the problem houses, not all rentals.
Several kinks need to be worked out before an ordinance can be brought forward to City Council, such as whether to prohibit back house rentals. Blewett said some cities have banned those units, while others have mandated that an owner-occupant stay up front. Neighborhood associations will also need to weigh in on the recommendations.
But the more time that lapses, the more party houses will continue to appear.
“We’re going to have an ordinance,” Blewett said, adding he hopes it will be ready in March. “There’s no way that we can continue to do this for six or 12 months.”
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