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Dallas city staff: proposed short-term rental ordinance difficult to enforce, not the right option

Photograph of signs opposing short-term rentals in Dallas.
Courtesy of Olive Talley
Many Dallas homeowners are concerned about the growing number of short-term rentals in their neighborhoods.

The Dallas City Plan Commission proposed an ordinance earlier this year that would keep short-term rentals out of areas zoned for single family residence. But several city staffers surprised the council Wednesday when they said that ordinance would be difficult to enforce — and recommended against it.

Critics of short-term rentals want Dallas officials to pass an out-right ban on the rentals in single-family zoned areas of the city. They say the ban is the only way to keep families and communities safe.

But city staff says right now, enforcement of the proposed ordinance would be difficult and costly.

Staff says instead of using the zoning process to restrict where STRs can operate, regulation and enforcement should be centered in a registration-based ordinance.

City Manager T.C. Broadnax said the STR ordinance was tentatively scheduled to be before the council on June 14. But he also raised concerns about the different policy opinions that council members have been sharing.

Broadnax also said Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson had expressed he wanted the debate over short-term rentals to be closed out with the current city council.

“I think we should do our very best to get this done next week,” West said.

Currently there are around 1,800 registered STR properties in Dallas. Staff says there’s around 1,300 STRs in the process of getting registered.

The topic has been the subject of fierce controversy for years. STR opponents say they’ve been terrorized by wild STR parties, drunken tourists and gun violence stemming from who is renting the properties. They also say a decrease in STR properties will also lower rental costs, and increase affordable housing in the city.

But residents who run rental properties say the vast majority of STR owners follow city guidelines, pay city-mandated rental taxes and don’t allow parties.

They also say renting their homes is their livelihood.

City staff briefed the council in April and were instructed to review four main areas to do more research. Those centered on STR zoning, enforcement, data analytics and implications on how the city issues certificates of occupancy.

“This is not a problem I created, I should not be punished for it,” short term rental owner Denise Lowry said during Wednesday’s meeting. “My intention is to run my business for the benefit of our community.”

Footing the bill

City staff presented four different zoning options that city council could discuss.

Currently, the City Plan Commission’s recommendation is to completely ban STRs in residential zoned single-family areas of Dallas.

Staff members says if council accepts CPC recommendation the enforcement would be difficult and costly. They also say there would be a lot of “illegal land use” to enforce because of the proposed ordinance. That’s why city staff is recommending that code enforcement needs to be under a registration ordinance.

“The city would be footing the bill for the majority of the enforcement because the registration would be smaller,” Director of Code Compliance Services Chris Christian said. “And we would have a lot of illegal land use to enforce which is not under the jurisdiction of the ordinance.”

Christian says under the current recommendation the city wouldn't be able to enforce anything other than land use. He says the most viable option is to have as many STRs under a registration ordinance.

Julia Ryan is the director of the city's planning and urban design department. She says her recommendation would be to build regulations in a registration ordinance — rather than using zoning to move STRs out of an area.

"You could then build into the registration ordinance, the items that you wanted to control," Ryan said at Wednesday's meeting. "So that you have all your requirements within one ordinance which is more streamline and easier to enforce."

Other staff members said the other positive of putting all the requirements under one policy is that you remove the chance for case-by-case zoning approvals. To change a registration ordinance, it must be amended all together.

But many residents in attendance at Wednesday’s meeting say they want an out-right ban on STRs in residentially zoned areas of Dallas. They say the properties cater to people looking to throw parties and create unsafe environments for their families — and communities.

Jack Kocks lives in District 11. He says a rental in his neighborhood was the scene of at least one party that turned into chaos.

“The event, posted on social media, drew hundreds of underaged teens that converged on our neighborhood,” Kocks said. “They brought with them guns, drugs and alcohol.”

Kocks said before the night was over, one person had been shot and yards were littered with “beer bottles and shell casings.”

City staff analyzed service calls to 311 and 911 from January to April 2023 to see if STRs in residential neighborhoods were generating more nuisances than other residential properties.

According to the briefing, identified STRs in residential areas accounted for around 3% of service calls between January and April of this year.

During the same time both 311 and 911 received over a million calls.

And although residential STRs had a higher average number of calls associated with their properties than non-STR homes, city staff says the “difference is less than one call.”

80% of the city’s identified STR properties “generated zero calls” for over a hundred call types city staff analyzed.

Those call types include noise, narcotics and vice complaints — handled by the city’s 311 service. The analysis also included data from 911 calls — like calls for violence, gunfire and prostitution.

Staff based their analysis on the assumption that each STR call was unique — with no duplicates — the calls were made for the right address and the property was operating as an STR during the service call.

‘This is my homestead; this is my livelihood…’

The debate over whether STRs should be allowed to operate in residentially zoned areas has been on-going for years.

Residents who have organized against rental properties are hoping the Dallas city council chooses what they call the “KISS” solution (Keep It Simple Solution). They say the decision to ban STRs from residential areas is really a simple choice.

“STRs have invaded our communities with a hostile take-over at our expense,” District 5 resident Ruth Torres said during Wednesday’s meeting. “Our communities should be safe to raise our kids, not…endangering out lives to dodge bullets in our own homes.”

Torres says an STR owner built a stage in rental’s backyard to host live bands “all summer long.” She says another property hosted a party where those in attendance blasted offensive music and “emptied clips at their pool for over seven hours.”

Critics say callas to the Dallas Police Department over what happens at these properties are treated as low priorities.

But those in favor of STRs — mainly those that operate the rentals — say while critics talk about bringing communities together, the motive behind a push to ban the properties is much different.

“If you look up, you’ll see a lot of white shirts, a lot of white hair and a lot of white skin,” Blake Arrnant said during the meeting. “They don’t like the people that are coming into their neighborhood. This doesn’t have anything to do with noise, parking, trash and parties.”

And others say they run legitimate business because they rely on the income to live.

Lowry lives in Dallas and rents a small cottage that’s attached to her property. She says she’s been a five-star host for years.

“This is my homestead, this is my livelihood and quite frankly this is my joy,” Lowry said. “Now because of some bad host, I am in jeopardy of losing everything I’ve worked for. It’s unthinkable.”

Next steps

After hours of discussion between staff and council members — which some characterized as an ‘interrogation’ — the only outcome was the affirmed stance that something needs to be done.

District 1 Council Member Chad West says he’s ready to move on and start cracking down on the bad operators that have frequently been cited by STR critics.

“These guys are out of control,” West said. “Us debating this for four years is only making it worse. We got to actually but these regulations in place."

And other council members simply wanted a firm recommendation from city staff.

“I want to reiterate my request for a formal recommendation from staff,” District 5 Council Member Jamie Resendez asked. "Staff are the professionals, that's why they get paid the big bucks. I think some of the comments this body has made today, highlights our ignorance on some of these things."

But for the other council members who have made their stance known from the beginning, they say the time to decide is now.

District 12 City Council Member Cara Mendelsohn — who has been openly vocal of her support of the ‘Homes not Hotels’ STR critics — say a recommendation isn’t necessary at this time.

“We don’t need a staff recommendation today,” Mendelsohn said. “I would have liked one three years ago.”

Got a tip? Email Nathan Collins at ncollins@kera.org. You can follow Nathan on Twitter @nathannotforyou.

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Nathan Collins is the Dallas Accountability Reporter for KERA. Collins joined the station after receiving his master’s degree in Investigative Journalism from Arizona State University. Prior to becoming a journalist, he was a professional musician.