Editorials

Keep short-term rentals, but get rid of the neighbors from hell

Imagine living a few doors down from a home that’s been converted to provide seven bedrooms for 16 neighbors that change every week.

For Kay Ashton in North Arlington that’s not just a “what-if”— it’s real. It’s a short-term, Airbnb-type rental in the midst of her residential neighborhood. It’s a party house for out-of-towners visiting some of the city’s nearby attractions like Six Flags Over Texas, a Cowboys football game or this week’s NFL draft.

“We’ve had guys putting their clothes out on the grass to dry and we had to call the cops a couple of weeks ago because they had parked on the front lawn,” said Ashton in a Star-Telegram story about the City of Arlington’s debate over new short-term rental rules.

Clearly, cities should protect neighborhoods and homeowners like Ashton. But what does that mean? Should the owners of the rental properties have to register with the city; pay for local permits; undergo inspections; limit the number of guests; provide off-street parking; live on premises? The list of considerations goes on and on. As Mike Bass, Arlington’s code compliance director, will tell you - “it’s complicated.”

PROTECT NEIGHBORHOODS

This Editorial Board wants to say upfront we believe there is a place for short-term rentals that allow visitors to stay less than 30 days in a homeowner’s extra bedroom, or by renting a private condo, apartment or house.

Much like Uber and other ride-sharing businesses, the reservations through companies like Airbnb or VRBO are made online or with a smartphone app. Property owners can earn some extra money, and visitors can often find accommodations that are less expensive than a full-service hotel.

But there should be rules, beginning with those that most affect quality of life in neighborhoods.

Bass says Arlington already has regulations that limit disorderly conduct, trash and unlawful parking. But let's make sure they’re specific and strong enough to address the kinds of disruptions experienced by residents living near these rentals.

Specifically, the rules should prohibit loud after-hour noise and establish parking requirements. We agree with many Arlington residents who want to ban front-yard signs that advertise the short-term rentals.

It also seems reasonable to set a maximum number of guests, especially in single-family neighborhoods.

REGISTRATION AND FEES

Requiring owners of short-term rental property to register with the city, pay city hotel occupancy taxes and buy annual operating permits is a little trickier.

We see a value in the property owners having to register so that the city can communicate about rules and the operators can be fined or have their renting privileges cut-off for allowing bad behavior. But fees, if there are any, should be reasonable. They shouldn’t be so onerous that families can’t afford to rent a room to tourists on weekends.

Arlington is not the first city to grapple with a policy for addressing this growing industry, and there’s no such thing as a standard ordinance. Some cities like Fort Worth officially prohibit short-term rentals. But a spot check on Airbnb for availability May 25-28 in Fort Worth showed 104 private rooms; 142 properties that would accommodate six adults; and 22 locations that would accept 12 guests. Randle Harwood, Fort Worth’s director of planning and development, said it’s impossible to prevent the rentals. He said the city responds if it receives complaints but there have only been a few.

We don't know if Fort Worth needs an official short-term rental policy. Maybe what it's doing now is working. But Arlington with its many attractions has a problem.

On Tuesday, its city council will take another look at developing a policy. We support one that continues to allow short-term rentals, but let's make it a priority to ensure permanent residents don’t meet a new neighbor from hell every other week.

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