Face it, Fort Worth: Airbnb is here to stay. Here’s a better approach to city’s rental rules

·3 min read
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Fort Worth needs a short-term rental ordinance that works.

The current ban in residential areas is anything but. It’s poorly enforced. It doesn’t reflect economic reality: People want to offer up their homes, and visitors want to rent them. And it undermines cherished American principles of property rights and the freedom to pursue financial fulfillment.

Under the current city ordinance, enacted in 2018, renting out property through Airbnb, Vrbo and similar services is barred in areas zoned for residences. No one thinks that ban is effective. In theory, homeowners can petition the city for a zoning change so they can let out a property, a laughable proposition that no one has even attempted in the ordinance’s four-year life.

And yet, a robust rental market thrives. As of this writing, more than 600 properties were listed on AirBnb alone for the week of Memorial Day.

Homeowners have a right to have neighborhoods free of houses that essentially operate as hotels. Noise, late-night partying and crowded streets are nuisances.

To fix it, the City Council should amend the ordinance to allow rentals in neighborhoods, but require registration and tax the activity. Those taxes can help pay for a boost in code enforcement and police response, if necessary.

Fort Worth could designate different types of areas for certain rentals, as other cities have. That would provide a way to limit at least some rental properties to homeowners genuinely looking to add income while they’re away. Rental companies could be enlisted to help police troublesome properties by requiring proof of city registration and limiting the number of times a home in certain areas could be offered.

And it would restrict the number of investor-owned properties that are the source of a disproportionate amount of complaints.

Those problems can be addressed with existing tools, too. Code compliance and police are the way to approach noise, excess traffic and other nuisances. Barring an entire form of otherwise-useful commerce is too blunt an approach.

What’s necessary is a balancing act among all the legitimate interests — public order, property rights and the demand for peaceful neighborhoods.

Enforcing an outright ban is too big a task. City officials can’t merely go after a property owner who advertises an available rental. So, code officers spend time observing homes and issuing citations for other violations. Code enforcers worked just 71 cases on short-term rentals in the last fiscal year, according to a city report.

Targeting areas with recurring problems and smaller zones where rentals are banned would be more effective. Neighborhoods near TCU and Dickies Arena may be good places to start.

The city plans to soon hire a data-mining company to assess where rentals are and possibly seek payment of taxes or inform owners of changes to the law. That’s a good step; the council needs to know exactly what it’s looking at before crafting regulations.

Precision will be important. Several cities have found themselves in court over limits on short-term rentals, a headache Fort Worth doesn’t need. These days, state Republican leaders and the Legislature are all too eager to overrule cities’ ordinances, too, especially if they’re perceived as anti-liberty or even just left-leaning.

We’d rather Fort Worth make its own rules, sensible ones that aim to balance the 21st century economy and property rights with excellent, orderly neighborhoods.

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