Ban them or keep them? From Arlington to Austin, short-term rental debate rages on

When Kari Garcia saw the north Arlington home across the street transformed into an Airbnb listing, she was stunned.

In what had been a historically quiet neighborhood, large groups began staying at the house for everything from family reunions to football games at AT&T Stadium, she said.

She has had little recourse since the homeowner lives out of state.

“We’ve had party buses parked across the street and anywhere from four to 12 cars parked in the neighborhood,” Garcia said. “I can’t let my kids outside to ride their bikes and shoot hoops. It doesn’t feel safe anymore.”

Her frustration reflects the attitude of many north Arlington residents who have said they want short-term rentals, which are listed on sites like Airbnb or VRBO, completely out of their neighborhoods.

The city’s planning and zoning commission has amended the unified development code to designate that short-term rentals be allowed within a one-mile radius of the city’s entertainment district, which includes Six Flags Over Texas, Globe Life Park and the Cowboys stadium.

Certain parts of the city zoned for multifamily housing could also have short-term rentals if sub-leasing is allowed and they have a short-term rental permit. They would be banned in the rest of the city.

The City Council is scheduled to consider the proposal on Tuesday with a final vote on April 23.

“We have neighbors feuding in our neighborhoods and we can’t have that going on for decades,” said Arlington Mayor Jeff Williams. “If you have neighborhoods that want (short-term rentals), we want to hear from them. But we want to keep them out of neighborhoods that don’t want them.”

Jeremy Fenceroy, a short-term rental operator and a member of START (or Short-term Accommodations for Residents and Tourism) said only a handful of short-term rentals are causing problems.

The city is currently monitoring 14 short-term rentals that have had 10 or more complaint calls between Oct. 1, 2016 and Sept. 30, 2018. Host Compliance, the city’s consultant, identified 428 short-term rentals operating in the city.

Fenceroy, who rents rooms out in his home, said these vacation rentals can operate without negatively affecting neighborhoods.

“Our position has been and continues to be that responsibly operated short-term rentals with no problems should be allowed to operate with reasonable regulations in place to protect any health, safety and well-being concerns,” Fenceroy said.

If the city approves short-term rental regulations, Fenceroy said the city can expect legal action.

“I’d say it almost certainly will happen unless the state legislators come through and pass a bill through the House and Senate and the governor signs it,” Fenceroy said, “Barring that, there will definitely be a lawsuit in Arlington just like there is in Grapevine.”

Regulating short-term rentals can be tricky.

In Grapevine, residents thought they had the approval to use homes as short-term rentals, then the city reaffirmed an existing ordinance that banned them.

Residents sued and a judge issued a temporary injunction against the ban. A trial is scheduled for July 15.

Southlake and Hurst have also banned short-term rentals.

Proposed legislation could limit the ability of cities, such as Arlington, Austin and Grapevine to regulate short-term rentals. Property owners also say a court ruling supports their right to operate short-term rentals.

House Bill 3778 filed by state Rep. Angie Chen Button, R-Richardson, and Senate Bill 1888 filed by state Sen. Pat Fallo, R-Prosper, would curb cities’ regulation of short-term rentals.

Residents from Arlington and Grapevine traveled to Austin on Thursday for a committee hearing on Button’s legislation.

Fenceroy urged the Urban Affairs Committee to “stop cities from violating our property rights.”

Former Arlington City Councilman Charlie Parker, who has been dealing with short-term rentals in north Arlington for six years, said cities should be allowed to set their own rules.

“I’m always concerned when somebody thinks they have a one-size-fits-all solution for all of the state of Texas,” Parker said. “This is one area where the patchwork quilt of individual cities works best.”

Nationally, cities from Santa Monica on the West Coast to Miami Beach on the East Coast have grappled with short-term rental rules.

Airbnb has sued Miami Beach over its restrictions while a federal court upheld Santa Monica’s licensing rules.

Staff writer Elizabeth Campbell contributed to this report.
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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.