The debate over Airbnb and Vrbo rentals in Dallas has to start with the fact that they are here and they are here to stay.
It is not a wise decision at this point to somehow regulate them out of existence or from certain neighborhoods or restrict them so tightly that only a handful can operate under onerous conditions.
Unfortunately, we see the possibility that a majority of the city council could arrive at some version of these scenarios in any number of ways.
It would be a setback for Dallas as a destination city for business and leisure travel. This would unfairly impinge on the rights of landowners to realize the value of their investments. And it would be embarrassing for all of us if this town couldn’t do it right.
Two bad ideas surfaced at a council briefing this week and should be stopped.
The first came from council member Carolyn King Arnold, who suggested that all short-term rentals be banned in single-family residential areas. Arnold has a history of bad ideas. She used to call the Southern Gateway Park project, so important to South Dallas, Wreck Park. She has since returned. Hopefully it does the same for short-term rentals as they take root in the economy of modern cities.
The idea of most concern – only because it’s more successful – is one of two plans proposed by city staff. Under that plan, zoning restrictions would be piled on short-term rentals to kill off “non-owner occupied” rental homes in single-family areas.
We understand the impulse. Rentals would be permitted as of right in many areas, including multi-family zoned neighborhoods. But the reality of the market is that many people looking for a short term rental are looking for a house. Most homes are in single-family neighborhoods. And most short-term rental homes aren’t owner-occupied. So that kills a whole market in Dallas and unduly restricts the property rights of landlords.
There’s a better option on the table with support from board members Adam Bazaldua and Jaynie Schultz. Instead of using zoning as a way to regulate short-term rentals, this option supports some reasonable requirements regarding parking, number of rentals per unit, and uses. In short, party houses are not allowed.
It seems to us that the market leaders in this sector, Airbnb and Vrbo, want to maintain good relations with the cities where they do business. If a home is causing neighborhood problems, the city must respond to those complaints, document the problem, impose the fines allowed by the proposed legislation, and then put Airbnb and Vrbo on the case. These companies do not need rental properties. Properties need it.
If that doesn’t work, consider stricter regulation. But let’s not start with such a blunt approach that we’ll harm a developing market or rob homeowners of the opportunity to supplement their income.
Intelligent regulation is possible. It will just require some smart decisions from the board.
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