In the latest installment of our occasional conversations with Fort Worth leaders, Mayor Mattie Parker discusses short-term rentals. In 2018, City Council passed an ordinance defining short-term rentals as dwellings where the owner is compensated for lodging guests between 1 to 30 days. Fort Worth allows short-term rentals in some parts of the city, but not residential areas. Across the state, Grapevine prohibits them entirely while Austin and Arlington require short-term rentals to be licensed and pay hotel and occupancy taxes.
This conversation has been edited for length and clarity. For the unabridged version, please listen to the audio attached to this article.
Jessica Priest: How does the city currently define and regulate short-term rentals?
Mattie Parker: Long story short: they’re not allowed in residential districts. They are allowed in most mixed-use and form-based districts and industrial areas across the city. But the irony is not lost on me that that pretty much means you don’t have any place to put short-term rentals … I frankly think we’ve kicked the can a bit.
And I don’t even care which direction we kick the can in right now. I’m sort of doing my own research and talking to elected leaders in other cities. But short-term rentals are very much a fabric of our way of life now when it comes to tourism and visitors. I think for us as a community, we have to acknowledge that first of all and listen closely to our neighborhoods because there’s a lot of opposition to short-term rentals and understandably so. You hear some horror stories, but you also hear some real good news stories.
My perspective is pretty much two things. One is if they are existing today and we’re not enforcing them because enforcement of those is kind of like a needle in a haystack and only happens when someone makes a report, that’s a problem. … Secondly, we know they are all over the city. … We’re also not registering them or gaining any type of revenue. I have not spoken to our hotel leaders across the community. I’m really curious what their perspective is because my first instinct is that they might be irritated. … I think right now, we’ve just directed staff to find some different solutions that we’ve seen in other communities and help us create some finality to which direction we want to go. We were already getting emails yesterday from a few neighborhood groups that are pretty concerned about it, so I’m going to take some time to read those. There’s not a rush, by any means.
Priest: What do you want to see change? Do you want short-term rentals to be licensed? Do you want them to be in more areas of the city?
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Parker: Here’s the deal. Right now, they’re not allowed, but they’re everywhere. And we aren’t enforcing them because we don’t have enough code enforcement officers to enforce them. They’re busy doing other work. And it’s only on a complaint basis. What we currently have is not working. We can’t just bury our heads in the sand. Because it’s not working, we’re going to have to pivot and say, ‘Are we going to want stronger enforcement mechanisms to make sure they’re not allowed?’ or ‘Are we going to carve out specific neighborhoods they’re not allowed?’
Some cities like Austin have done that. What’s our course of action? Because what we’re doing right now is sort of laughable. Frankly. It’s not working. And it’s confusing to a lot of people. I mean I’ve had friends I’ve had to tell. One friend in particular was going to buy a rental property and turn it into a short-term rental and I was like, ‘You might not want to do that.’
Priest: So, do you want more code enforcement officers to be hired?
Parker: I don’t think the solution is on the enforcement side only.
Priest: What is then?
Parker: It’s a longer conversation with fellow council members and community to be honest with them that the status quo isn’t working. We need to either create a more robust ordinance, where we’re allowing them in specific residential districts, or if we’re going to stick to none at all are allowed, then ask the question about code compliance officers. Are we going to spend millions and millions of dollars out of our budget to keep them out of Fort Worth? I don’t necessarily think that’s probably the best use of taxpayer dollars, frankly. Because the reality is, they would love to have bigger teams already to be able to focus on some of those other issues that they help mitigate in our community.
Jessica Priest is an investigative journalist for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at email@example.com or via Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.