The city has signed a one-year, $35,000 contract with Deckard Technologies Inc. to identify, monitor and report short-term rentals operating in Fort Worth. 

Under city ordinance, short-term rentals in residential areas are illegal. Tension over illicit rentals in neighborhoods has ratcheted up over the past several months as the city announced plans in March to begin a data collection effort with an eye toward eventual legalization. 

Now, that plan is moving forward. According to the contract signed June 2, Deckard will provide reports on the number of short-term rentals currently active; how much revenue they’re generating; how many nights are booked on average per reservation; average daily rates and booking trends. 

The company also will identify violations of the city’s current short-term rental ordinance, including listings located in residential areas and listings exceeding a property’s occupancy limit. 

Deckard will record contact information, property type and whether the property is occupied by an owner and the number of available bedrooms. 

Deckard will conduct its analysis based on data from 2019, 2020, 2021 and the current year to date. The contract estimates Deckard will find and monitor approximately 1,000 short-term rental properties during the initial term (from June 2022 to June 2023). If Deckard finds more, the contract amount may be increased through an amendment. 

An initial report is due 30 days from June 6, according to the contract, and a final report is due no later than 60 days from June 6. City staff anticipates making initial policy recommendations in August. The legal department and neighborhood services staff are currently considering four to five options, said Assistant Director of Development Services Daniel Leal. Those options include designating short-term rentals as bed and breakfasts, or granting them conditional use permits.

“I think we’re putting the cart before the horse,” District 9 council member Elizabeth Beck said. “My office has certainly received countless emails, both for and against short-term rentals. Members of our community feel really passionate about this one way or the other, and so before you propose anything to us, I think it’s incumbent on staff to host a series of public meetings to really engage the community and determine what they want to see.”

Short-term owners aren’t waiting on the city’s decision to begin organizing. The Fort Worth Short-Term Rental Alliance, created in March, has already started hosting informational meetings for prospective members. 

Seventy people showed up to the kick-off event in late May, Lauren Brady, president of the Alliance, said. She was pleasantly surprised by the numbers, and said they indicate a larger support group behind legalizing short-term rentals in residential areas. 

“I joked with my board of directors that there might be eight people showing up, and seven of us will be board members,” she said. “So we just had prepared for anything. And 70 people showed up. So it was really exciting for us.”

Meanwhile, residents like Roy Barker have become increasingly frustrated by the lack of city response to short-term rental complaints. He lives behind Lake Worth, where a neighbor frequently advertises her property as having “lake access” for would-be tourists. 

The result has been a regular influx of large groups of people, he said, sometimes 10 or more, flooding into an otherwise quiet area to take advantage of the short-term rental. Late night parties and scattered trash are a frequent symptom of the activity Barker has reported for the past year, with no luck. 

“I take it kind of hard because I was under the impression last year that if we catch her in the act, we find her, it’s done,” he said. “And so part of my frustration now is just that nobody really gives a crap.”

He’s skeptical about whether the data collection effort will actually bear fruit. While he’s supportive of requiring rentals to be owner-occupied, Barker isn’t sure a data mining company will be able to confirm that. He pointed toward his neighbor, who leaves a truck in front of the rental to give it the appearance of being lived in.

Rental owners are also skeptical, albeit for a different reason. Some members of Brady’s association have expressed concern about how the data collected by Deckard will be used in the future.

“They don’t trust that the data won’t be used against them, which is understandable,” she said. “And what we have tried to tell them is the city is really going by the National League of Cities STR guide, and this is step one on the National League of Cities STR guide.” 

Until the city has come to a final decision on how to handle short-term rentals, it has put a pause on enforcing the current ordinance. Assistant City Manager Dana Burghdoff said the city’s code compliance department is only issuing enforcement actions on nuisance properties. 

“How long is that going to take?” Barker asked. “They have to hire this company, let them do their work, and come back to the city. It could take six months to a year (to decide) and we are stuck having to live with this problem.”

Brady said her group worked with City Council and code compliance to pause the enforcement efforts. 

“It was actually one of the first wins that we had as an organization back in March,” she said. “There have been a couple of citations issued erroneously, but part of what our board of directors does is if one of our members does get a citation, we have contacts with the city and we go to them and represent them so that our members don’t have to do that.”

Emily Wolf is a government accountability reporter for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at emily.wolf@fortworthreport.org or via Twitter. 

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Emily Wolf

Emily Wolf is a local government accountability reporter for the Fort Worth Report. She grew up in Round Rock, Texas, and graduated from the University of Missouri-Columbia with a degree in investigative...