Ban Airbnb, VRBO or let them stay? How cities struggle to regulate short-term rentals

In this north Arlington neighborhood where William and Kay Ashton reside, a catering truck showed up recently at a vacation rental down the street.

When one of their neighbors inquired what was going on, they learned that a wedding party for 35 was scheduled for the home a few miles from AT&T stadium.

It’s just one example of the frustrations voiced by north Arlington residents who have seen the biggest impact in the city from short-term rentals, the term for properties that are rented for 30 days or less.

And the Ashtons have had enough.

Taking a page from the city’s successful term limits election, the Ashtons said they are part of a group of homeowners planning a petition drive to put a proposition on the November ballot.

“We all want to ban them,” said Kay Ashton referring to her north Arlington neighbors.

There’s only problem with that plan. Will it work and will it be too late?

In Tarrant County, Grapevine and Hurst enacted bans. But then a judge ordered Grapevine to stop enforcing its ban after property owners sued. The case is scheduled to go to trial on July 15.

Cities and counties all over the country from to Wilmington, N.C., to communities near Lake Tahoe are trying to come up with answers.

Just this month, the Denver Post reported that cities all over Colorado are struggling to deal with the proliferation of short-term rentals.

While critics don’t want them in their neighborhoods, short-term rental owners say they complement the hotel industry and provide another source of income for property owners.

“This issue is not just in Arlington; it’s around the state and around the U.S.,” said Arlington Mayor Jeff Williams. ”Everybody is trying to figure out how to deal with this.”

In Arlington, the City Council appeared to be moving toward requiring a specific use permit for short-term rentals.

But at its Jan. 8 meeting, Williams and several other City Council members said they are no longer behind that plan after opposition from short-term rental supporters and detractors.

“We haven’t gotten any citizen support,” Williams said. “Personally, I’m not for that.”

The city’s consultant, Host Compliance, determined there are 357 short-term rental listings in Arlington with 252 in single-family homes (72 percent of those listings are for the entire home).

The City Council will be briefed on short-term rentals again at its afternoon meeting Tuesday, said Susan Schrock, a city spokeswoman. Williams said the city may look at establishing a complaint hotline and going after problem rental properties with existing rules as a short-term solution.

At the Jan. 8 meeting, councilwoman Sheri Capehart urged city staff to take a look at Fort Worth’s ordinance.

The Fort Worth ordinance, Williams said, has some “good concepts” about allowing vacation rentals in some parts of the city and not in other areas. Critics have said Fort Worth doesn’t strongly enforce those rules unless there are complaints.

One council member, Robert Shepard, hasn’t given up on using the specific use permit.

But this lengthy debate could be moot.

Arlington and other Texas cities face the risk that legislation will be filed in Austin that could eventually tie the city’s hands to regulate the industry. The mayor said he believes short-term rental bills will be filed during this session.

Ken Cox, who owns a photography studio, has had plans to build upscale short-term rentals in the entertainment district near AT&T Stadium. He has been waiting for the city to make a decision.

“What I would like to see is some urban renewal with short-term rentals instead of placing them in traditional neighborhoods,” Cox said. “There are some really bad homes within walking distance of AT&T Stadium that need to be torn down.”

For now, Cox isn’t sure if he’ll ever build.

“Our plans are on hold,” Cox said. “We don’t know what we’re going to do.”

Related stories from Fort Worth Star Telegram

Bill Hanna is an award-winning reporter who has covered just about every beat at the Star-Telegram. He currently covers Arlington but also writes about a variety of subjects including weather, wildlife, traffic and health.