Fort Worth

Is it time for Fort Worth to do something about Airbnbs in neighborhoods?

The market for Airbnbs in Fort Worth continues to grow, encroaching on neighborhoods where they’re not allowed. But with less than a dozen complaints about short-term rentals in more than two months, the city isn’t sure if more regulation is needed.

City staff Tuesday suggested the council explore an ordinance that would allow Airbnb-style owners to apply for special permitting in residential areas. Those permits, which carry a cost, require the short-term rental to operate under several conditions, and may make it easier for the city to monitor them, planning director Randle Harwood said.

In Fort Worth, Airbnbs, VBROs or similar short-term rentals are not allowed in residential areas. Instead they’re limited to commercial and industrial areas that already have a blend of housing and business. Unlike hotels, short-term rentals likely don’t pay the city’s hotel tax, though Harwood said it’s possible a few have self-reported.

Despite the ordinance, dozens of short-term rentals have popped up in single-family neighborhoods where they aren’t allowed.

Airbnb’s website earlier this week populated at least 300 rentals in Fort Worth, but Harwood said as many as 1,000 to 1,100 could operate around town. Because the site doesn’t give exact addresses, it’s hard to tell how many were legal and how many broke the city’s ordinance.

Arlington Heights has been at the center of the conversation around short-term rentals.

The neighborhood’s proximity to the new Dickies Arena makes it a likely hub for Airbnb-style units. The Star-Telegram reported in May that some residents in the neighborhood were concerned short-term rentals would bring loud parties and cause parking woes while pushing longtime residents out of the historic neighborhood. Those interested in renting their homes see it as a way to make money and support their mortgage or property taxes.

The Star-Telegram this week reached out to residents in Arlington Heights and around TCU, where short-term rentals may be used for tailgate parties. However, no one was willing to discuss the subject publicly for fear of retribution from neighbors.

Councilwoman Ann Zadeh said a balance needed to be struck between the neighborhoods and responsible short-term rental hosts.

“I have concerns about the change to the character of a neighborhood when you have too much of this activity,” she said, but noted she knew of some people who wanted to use Airbnb as way to introduce travelers to Fort Worth. “They see themselves as ambassadors to our city.”

The permits staffed proposed Tuesday could stipulate:

Payment of the hotel tax

Registration of single-family homes and certificates of occupancy for units in multi-family buildings

Sound limits

Contact information of the owner

Parking requirements

Maximum occupancy limits

If at any point in time the rental violates the conditions, the city can assess fines or ultimately revoke the permit.

“That’s the beauty of this tool,” Harwood told the Star-Telegram. “If someone comes in and says ‘We’ll do X, Y and Z’ but they don’t, we can cite them.”

These permits are not cheap, costing about $2,000, and they would help the city collect hotel tax. Harwood said one estimate showed short-term rentals could generate up to $1.5 million in taxes for the city each year.

City staff laid out a timeline that would bring an ordinance to the council for consideration after the first of the year. Harwood said the city needs more time to explore enforcement options and take public comment.

Even now the city has a hard time enforcing the short-term rental ordinance.

There simply aren’t enough resources to proactively monitor Airbnbs and similar operations, Harwood said, so enforcement is complaint driven.

“There’s no way we could charge enough money on permitting or licensing to support covering 1,000 businesses,” he said.

It has been hard to tell how exactly how many short-term rentals operate in Fort Worth.

Until recently the city didn’t separate complaints about short-term rentals from general code compliance violations. Since June 14, when the city started tracking specific complaints, code compliance officers have responded to 11 regarding short-term rentals. Those complaints usually involve noise, parking and parties.

Mayor Betsy Price wondered if the number of complaints was low for a city the size of Fort Worth and moving forward with permitting would create more hassle than needed.

“I’m just not really comfortable with this right now,” she said, saying regulation could be a “slippery slope.”

Some cities have contracted with a third party to monitor short-term rentals, but those costs vary.

Councilman Dennis Shingleton, who represents Arlington Heights, said residents on both sides were passionate about the issue.

“Frankly I wish the state would take this thing up,” he said. “Then it’s the same across the board.”

This year, Rep. Angie Chen Button of Richardson sponsored a bill in the House that would have regulated short-term rentals across the state, but in April it was left pending in the House Urban Affairs Committee. No action was taken on the legislation.

That’s left a hodgepodge of laws across the state.

In September 2018, the Grapevine City Council upheld a existing city ordinance banning short-term rentals, but in November a judge ordered the city to stop enforcing the ban pending a lawsuit.

In April, Arlington decided to regulate Airbnb-style operators by limiting them to within one mile of the city’s entertainment district, which includes Six Flags Over Texas, Globe Life Park and AT&T Stadium.

While Austin and San Antonio regulate short-term rentals, Dallas, Houston, Plano and Irving do not.

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