Fifteen east Fort Worth neighborhoods are banding together to send a message to the city: if you’re going to legalize short-term rentals in residential areas, we want a seat at the table.
The Neighborhoods of East Fort Worth Alliance delivered a paper outlining its members’ views on short-term rental legalization to the city March 23. Included in the four-page document are a series of recommendations for managing short-term rentals, including zoning provisions, licensing requirements and a robust inspection and complaint process.
The alliance is comprised of Bentley Village/Waterchase, Brentwood-Oak Hills, Central Meadowbrook, Chimney Wood, Cookes Meadow, Eastern Hills, Far East, Garden of Eden, Handley, Hollow Hills, Riverbend, Ryanwood, West Meadowbrook, White Lake Hills and Woodhaven neighborhoods.
Under city ordinance, short-term rentals in residential areas are illegal. Tension over illicit rentals in neighborhoods has ratcheted up over the past month as the city announced plans to begin a data collection effort with an eye toward eventual legalization. A final report would include current rental locations, booking frequency and operating characteristics.
“Priority must be given to the safety and security of those who have invested long-term in a home where they are responsible to their neighbors and community,” the alliance wrote to city staff. “A home is often the largest investment any resident makes and is purchased with the understanding commercial enterprises will not operate next door. To violate that trust would be detrimental to the city, neighborhoods, and citizens of Fort Worth.”
Push for entertainment, tourist zones for short-term rentals
One of the recommendations included in the alliance’s memo is to establish specific entertainment zones where residential Airbnbs are allowed to operate. This strategy has already been implemented in Arlington, which created an STR Zone surrounding AT&T Center, Six Flags and the Esports Stadium and Expo Center.
The zone for short-term rentals developed as a result of advocacy from grassroots organization Texas Neighborhood Coalition in 2018. Zoning has traditionally been a local power, and Texas Neighborhood Coalition has begun working with other cities to craft their own short-term rental policies, Jessica Black, one of the organization’s leaders, said.
“We sent a preemptive, proactive letter to a lot of the legislators saying, ‘Hey, please don’t touch this. Leave it to the cities,’” Black said.
City officials have previously expressed doubt over whether an entertainment zone would work in Fort Worth. Assistant City Manager Dana Burghdoff previously told The Fort Worth Report that initial data indicated short-term rentals are more spread out in Fort Worth relative to Arlington, making it hard to identify a specific zone.
The alliance believes several zones have already developed organically near downtown: Dickies Arena, the Fairmount Historic District, the Stockyards and the Cultural District. Prioritizing legalization and regulation of short-term rentals there, rather than the average single-family neighborhood, would offer a workable compromise, members said.
“A middle ground is possible, but the proliferation of illegal short-term rentals must stop — for the protection of residents and the city itself,” members wrote in their letter to the city.
‘Revolving door of strangers’
Legalization presents an opportunity for strict licensing requirements.
The Neighborhoods of East Fort Worth Alliance is advocating for a number of requirements, including collecting contact information of a responsible party; proof of property insurance, noting disclosure to the insurance company that the home is used for short-term rentals; a calculated number of occupants; photographs showing the exterior view of the property; a site plan with an appropriate number of off-street parking spaces shown.
The alliance is also pushing the city to require applicants to notify property owners within a certain radius about their short term rental plans. If less than 20% of property owners register opposition, the license could be issued. If more opposed the rental, a hearing would need to be held or the license would need to be denied.
A central complaint of homeowners has been that sites like Airbnb and VRBO do not require hosts to background check their guests, or enforce any neighborhood/city-wide rules. Black said this can result in dangerous situations going unchecked in residential areas. Earlier in March, an 18-year-old was shot and killed at an Airbnb being rented for a birthday party.
“If you talk to your local police department, they’ll tell you the best way to prevent crime in your neighborhood is to get to know your neighbors and their routines and their cars,” she said. “Everybody looks out for anything that’s out of the ordinary. When you have short-term rentals in your neighborhood, it’s a business, and the entire business model is built around bringing a revolving door of strangers into your neighborhood so everybody kind of becomes numb to strangers coming and going.”
Currently, code enforcement officers rely on resident complaints to initiate investigations of illegal short-term rentals. Through fiscal year 2021, there were 65 complaints.
Alliance members would like to see the city expand its complaint process to be more proactive, including a periodic inspection of the property. If a property is found to be violating code ordinances during an inspection or as a result of complaints, it should not be rentable until the complaint is addressed, the group said.
Taxing short-term rentals
Traditional hotels are required to pay a 9% hotel occupancy tax in Fort Worth and use an online app to submit their payment and receipts. One solution under consideration by the city is requiring all short-term rental owners to register their properties and pay the hotel occupancy tax on a separate app.
In fiscal year 2021, Fort Worth collected almost $23.8 million in hotel occupancy tax. Only $28,000 of that came from 20 registered short-term rentals. The remainder came from 200 hotels.
The alliance is advocating for applying the hotel occupancy tax, or a similar measure, to short-term rentals.
The Fort Worth Report reported in March on an organization effort by short-term rental owners who hope the city will fully legalize the practice, including introducing a taxation effort. But homeowners like Janice Mitchel, a former zoning commissioner, say the city shouldn’t reward these rental owners for illegal activity.
“Just because someone is breaking the law, doesn’t mean you change it,” Michel said.
Michel said it’s unfair of the city to use residential neighborhoods to generate revenue through hotel occupancy taxes. To her, the money isn’t worth disrupting the lives of residential property owners and fundamentally changing a neighborhood’s atmosphere.
“It’s a slap in the face to hotel investors,” she said. “It’s a shame we have empty hotel rooms (because of illegal short-term rentals).”
Black said while the hotel occupancy tax can provide money to Fort Worth’s tourism industry, it doesn’t help with enforcement costs associated with short-term rentals.
“A couple of the people that I have stayed in touch with in Fort Worth, seem really resigned to the fact that the City Council is just so attracted to the hotel occupancy tax money that they’re going to do this and not listen to the residents,” she said.
Emily Wolf is a government accountability reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org 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.