After about a year of debate, Fort Worth City Council will vote Tuesday on new rules for short-term rentals.
The new ordinance spells out changes for both legal and illegal short-term rentals. The new rules could have a profound impact on short-term rental operators.
The new rules are designed to make it easier for the city to cite short-term rentals operating illegally in residential areas, to give legal short-term rentals a path to registration and to increase hotel occupancy tax revenue for the city.
The council decided to move forward with these new rules in December. For months, the council oscillated between tightening or loosening rules for where short-term rentals are allowed to exist. Eventually, council members decided to continue to allow short-term rentals only in mixed-use and commercial areas.
Short-term rentals operating in residential areas will immediately be illegal, but property owners will have 30 to 45 days to comply with the law, said Brandon Bennett, Fort Worth’s director of code compliance.
Meanwhile, the city is working to contract with a third-party platform to allow the city to register and monitor short-term rentals. In the coming weeks, the city will solicit companies to create the platform.
The Fort Worth Short Term Rental Alliance, a group focused on advocating for the interests of short-term rental owners, has concerns about the ordinance. They are asking council members to reconsider group size and minimum length of stay requirements.
United Neighborhoods of Fort Worth, which advocated for stronger policies restricting short-term rentals, is largely satisfied by the proposed ordinance. The group is thanking council members but asking for the city to hold short-term rental platforms like Airbnb accountable. The group is also asking the city to hire more code enforcement officers and provide clear guidance to short- term rental owners.
Illegal short-term rentals will see more stringent enforcement
Notices have already been sent to short-term rental operators that a third party group found are not complying with the city’s ordinance, Bennett said. In August 2022, there were about 565 illegal short-term rentals operating in Fort Worth
“It’s not zero tolerance, and it’s not hands-off,” Bennett said. “We are looking for our community members to help us.”
Lauren Brady, president of the Fort Worth Short Term Rental Alliance, said this stance from the city creates confusion among short-term rental operators.
“We’re telling our members to just be great neighbors, great hosts, and fully vet your guests … and be really responsible with your homes,” Brady said. We’re just hoping that so long as we do that, some grace will be given as the city works toward hopefully a new ordinance in the future.”
The new rules will give code compliance more tools to issue citations to short-term rental operators. Now, officers can use online listings as evidence to issue a citation to short-term rental operators. However, the department still needs neighbors to report houses being used for short-term renters. Online advertisements for short-term rental listings is not enough evidence to issue a citation alone.
Along with an online listing, code compliance officers must observe more than one person occupying the space within 30 days. Alternatively, a third-party group, Deckard Technologies, must identify that more than one booking occurred at that property within 30 days.
The city is paying Deckard Technologies a maximum of $35,000 annually to provide a subscription to Rentalscape, which identifies, monitors and reports short-term rentals.
Once a resident reports a property is being used as a short-term rental property, a code compliance officer should come and investigate within three days. If the property is found out of compliance the officer will give the property owner a warning — giving them about 30 days to become compliant with the ordinance.
If the property owner does not comply, the city could charge them with a misdemeanor. An owner who violates the ordinance could be hit with a maximum $2,000 fine. If the owner does not submit a plea and pay the fine or show up in court, the court will issue an arrest warrant.
Short-term rental operators typically comply after they’re issued a citation, Bennett said.
“That leaves the smaller number of ones which will continue to operate with violations that we’ll spend our time and energy on and bring them into compliance,” Bennett said.
“We have heard of several of our members getting notices saying that, ‘Hey, you’ve been operating in a residential area against the current ordinance and really, it feels educational and informational at this point,” Brady said.
The new rules are a starting point for the new process, said Carol Peters, with United Fort Worth Neighborhoods. Neighborhoods expect that it will still take several months to shut down a short- term rental after it is identified by the city.
“This is not the last word at all, but it gives the city the power to act,” Peters said. “Now where it goes from there, we’ll have to start working on that. But it’s still a work in progress, to say the least.”
Legal short term rental properties will be required to register
The new rules will also provide a path to registration for legal short-term rentals. There are about 120 short-term rentals operating in legal districts, according to a report from the city. Short-term rentals are allowed to operate in districts zoned commercial or mixed use.
Brady, of the short-term rental operators alliance, is hopeful that the registration process will help the property owners doing it right.
“We are hopeful as an organization that the city can track these homes better and they can see that they pose no threat to public health, safety and welfare,” Brady said.
Short-term rentals in a legal zone, commercial or mixed use, will have to comply with a set of rules. Those rules are:
• Owners will pay an annual registration and fee — $150 for first year, $100 for renewals
• The city will collect a hotel occupancy tax
• Property owner is required to register, and registration is non-transferrable
• There has to be someone local who is responsible for the property at all times
• There must be one guest or group at a time
• The property can only house three people per bedroom with a max of nine people
• Only on-premise parking is allowed
• There are no events or parties and no outdoor gatherings or music between 10 p.m.-7 a.m.
• Owners must provide instructions to guest on how to comply with noise, trash, parking, curfew ordinances
• Owners cannot advertise or operate a short-term rental without registration
• Registration can be revoked based on violations
City staff will contract with a third-party service, separate from Deckard Technologies, to register and administer short-term rentals. The city previously solicited contractors to build the third-party platform but did not select a company while the City Council considered changes to the ordinance.
The registration ordinance has some teeth, neighborhood advocate Peters said.
“We just have not had anything — no tools for the code officers in two years,” Peters said. “So this is a first step.”
The city doesn’t have an estimate for how much additional hotel occupancy tax will be collected when the city registers short-term rentals. However, the city “expect(s) it will be minimal compared to hotel revenue,” Burghdoff said.
Visit Fort Worth, which promotes economic development through tourism, is funded using hotel occupancy tax revenues.
“Short-term rentals are a part of our national tourism infrastructure and Fort Worth’s $2.6 billion visitor economy,” Bob Jameson, president and CEO of Visit Fort Worth, said in a statement. “They are not going away. Fort Worth benefits when travelers have more options, but we recognize that local policy must be responsive to resident opinions.”
Disclaimer: Visit Fort Worth COO Mitch Whitten sits on the Board of Directors of the Fort Worth Report. 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.
Rachel Behrndt 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.