Fort Worth wait and see approach to Airbnb style rentals working for now

Arlington passed an ordinance last month. Fort Worth may not need one yet. Galveston and Austin have very different needs for one.

All of which points to the fact that a statewide, one-size-fits-all law governing Airbnb-style short-term rentals is a horrible idea. Besides which, opinions on the rentals can vary widely from block to block, much less city to city.

Arlington, with its big-stadium sports venues and mushrooming University of Texas at Arlington, has felt the need to pass an ordinance restricting short-term rentals to within a mile of its entertainment district.

Fort Worth officials, on the other hand, say the city has the luxury of letting good old-fashioned zoning laws handle short-term rentals for now.

Currently, STRs, as they’re known, are legal in Fort Worth but highly restricted. You can have one, with a mere certificate of occupancy, in a commercial/industrial area. But in a residential area, either single-family or multifamily, you have to get a zoning change.

No one — absolutely no one — has applied.

Of course, STRs are all over the city nonetheless. That means homeowners are either ignorant of the need to get a zoning change or they’re dismissive of it, banking on not getting hassled by the city. It’s a good bet: The city won’t step in unless there’s a complaint.

Things could change in years to come, or perhaps more quickly than that. But for the time being, City Hall isn’t hearing a hue and cry either to go easier or harder on short-term rentals. Leaving well enough alone seems to be the plan.

Again, that could change quickly — especially after the new Dickies Arena opens and likely inspires more short-term rentals in the area.

Still, it’s probably a good idea for the city to wait out the Texas Legislature’s session — which ends this month, and where a bill limiting a city’s ability to regulate STRs is yet on life support.

In addition, the courts are beginning to weigh in — mostly on the side of rental owners’ property rights. Texas judges have ruled over the past few years that not even deed restrictions in homeowners associations can prevent short-term renting out of your residence. The Texas Supreme Court ruled a year ago that what visitors do in a home rental is consistent with “a residential purpose” in covenants. The 3rd Texas Court of Appeals ruled in 2017 that a rented room, house or apartment is not a commercial enterprise restricted to commercial and industrial zones, as Fort Worth maintains they are.

If neighbors or neighborhoods don’t want short-term rentals, they need to speak up as several already have. On the other hand, if renters don’t want to invite more regulation, they need to be careful whom they rent to. Several de facto party houses have been complained about, and several others have shut down after mild-mannered city intervention.

Americans love their property rights, and none more so than a Texan. Balancing the rights of property owners who want to rent out rooms and houses with the property rights of those around them is a neat trick.

For now, the city is striking a tentative Fort Worth-style leave-well-enough-alone balance, albeit by looking the other way. The question is how long can that work? Plus there’s the fairness issue: By all rights, short-term rentals should have to register with the city; pay commensurate taxes and fees; meet relevant codes; and provide for 24-hour complaint response.

At some point, the city will need a long-term solution to the short-term rental conundrum.