Being There v. Staying Here

AirBnb, VRBO, Neighborhoods, and the Stranger Next Door

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

IMPORTANT TO KNOW: Your feedback is needed soon. The city’s Quality of Life, Arts & Culture Committee will vote on its recommendation for the regulation of short-term rentals on May 17th. That recommendation will go to the full City Council for a vote on June 9th. Please contact your city councilperson with your opinion ASAP.

City Quality of Life Commissioners can be contacted here: https://dallasculture.org/cac/commissioners/

City Council Members can be reached here: https://dallascityhall.com/government/Pages/city-council.aspx

You can pick your friends, but not your family, it is said. But what about neighbors? To some degree you can pick them, much as you can pick your spouse or partner, who becomes your family. You look at places to live (like dating, and good luck in this market!) and at some point you decide on a home to buy or rent (much like you might pick a partner for marriage or…until we’ll see). This decision is based a little bit on factual, discernible information like nearby schools, proximity to work, close-by shopping, access to parks, mature trees, train stations, architectural appeal, etc. But just as much our conscious and unconscious biases come into play. While these usually have a benign, common-sense basis, they also to one degree or another will incorporate outright prejudice or even bigotry: How nice are the cars nearby? Do the nearby lawns look kept up? Do I agree with the political yard signs? Do the people around here dress like us? How old are they? Do they, you know, look like us?

But our ability to choose our neighbors is limited. Much like parents-in-law, once we move in, there will inevitably be neighbors next door or down the street that we don’t understand or that have a variety of strange peccadilloes that only get more annoying with time. Like cousins, there may be neighbors we wish we lived closer too or farther from. And, like siblings-in-law, the longer we stay around the more new neighbors will arrive, whether we like them or not. To some degree too, the new neighbors are choosing us!

But all neighbors have one thing in common, or at least they should. They are there. For better and for worse, the can’t avoid us and we can’t avoid them. Based on all of our limited time for social engagement and sheer proximity, eventually much of our true friends will come from our neighborhood.

And unlike most of the rest of American life, it is the one area where we are still “in it together.” If we want the park cleaned, we have to organize and do it ourselves. If there’s something we can’t do as neighbors, we organize and get in touch with our city councilperson to make things happen. You know, democracy. And, we also are mutually accountable to keep our lawns relatively clean, or houses kept up, our windows unbroken, and — and this will become more important later — our parties under control.

And as much as we have negative obligations, to not do things or to not let bad things happen, we also have positive obligations to our neighbors: To help them with a heavy trash can or to move that furniture, to bring them that casserole when the new baby arrives, to be cordial to them, to wave, to make new neighbors feel welcome, to listen to their concerns, to be charitable to them, to be civic minded, to befriend the lonely, to check in when you haven’t seen them in a while, to call for help if they need it, and all the rest of what we expect in a civil society.

For both these positive and negative neighborly obligations though, one thing is essential. Indeed it is part of the very definition of being a neighbor: Being there.

© Reprise Records, 1996

If a neighbor has a back yard party on Saturday night that goes too late, when you knock on their door Sunday or Monday to let them know, they are there. When their lawn crew starts at 7:30 A.M. and you want to politely remind them that they can’t start until 8, they are there. If you see smoke from the back yard and you want to make sure the house isn’t on fire, they are there. If you need someone to pop over to watch the kids while you go to the birth center to have a baby in the middle of the night, they are there.

Being there is part of what makes us neighbors civil to one another. Being there keeps us accountable. And yes, being there invokes peer pressure. Do you consistently leave your trash cans out two days too long? Sure, the city might eventually give you a little ticket, but being scolded by an eighty-year old widow who lives across the street will have far more impact on your future behavior. Watching the neighbor’s kids and scurry inside with their hands over their ears and holding their breath when you fire up your gas-powered leaf blower to get your lawn to Augusta National levels of impeccability will make you think a lot more about whether the noise and fumes are worth it (apparently) than will watching our beloved songbirds fly away for the day. You might even decide it’s worth it, but knowing that your neighbor is going to give you an earful on Monday if your Sunday birthday barbecue gets a little too loud and late is a powerful check on all our worst impulses.

The positive impacts of being there are… well, there… too. We are far more likely to ask for and give help to a neighbor that we’ve seen, even if only here and there, for several months or even years. It is the constant, long term presence that creates friendships and bonds among neighbors that can last a lifetime.

Our neighbors are neighbors because they are there. And they will be there. We cannot avoid them, and they can’t avoid us. Good and bad. Better and worse. That is what a neighbor is: Someone who is and will be there.

That is what a neighbor is: Someone who is and will be there.

And it is that quality being there — is the elemental difference between neighbors, whether they be a renter or an owner, and the occupiers of a (cue Darth Vader entrance music) short-term rental (i.e., the short-term renter or, hereinafter, “STR”), commonly rented through the now-ubiquitous AirBnB and VRBO. (It also finally brings us to the point of this essay. Pardon my longwindedness. — ed.)

Most STRs rent a home for a minimum of three nights. That is often the maximum as well, as “short-term” is the defining characteristic here. Sure, there are corporate and personal relocations, disaster displacements, and the like, but even those STRs are usually gone within a week or two. And that is the point. STRs are not there.

They are not there in the way a neighbor is. Even the ones staying for a week or two are explicitly going somewhere else after that. The ones in town for a funeral or a college visit are going back to their homes and neighbors when their visit is concluded. And the weekenders, even the dreaded parties are even worse; they’re leaving Sunday morning. STRs aren’t being there, they’re staying here.

That has been the rallying cry of those opposed to STRs in Dallas and elsewhere: The house party. The group who rents a home in a quiet neighborhood, throws a raging party until 3 a.m., and then is not there to be castigated the next day. And the house party is the worst, most visible, and potentially the most dangerous problem of STRs. The stories have been circulating about screaming matches, fights, gunshots, swearing, beer cans, pot smoke, lewd activity, and all the other effects of STR house parties. Then there are parking problems, burglaries, and the like.

Sure, any neighbor can throw a party that gets out of control. But people who throw and attend such parties are usually people in their teens and early-20s and that demographic does not usually own homes or rent them for years at a stretch. They are not being there, they’re staying here.

Confession, when I was a junior in high school, I threw a party at my parents’ house, where I lived, with them. They were out of town. It got loud. It got late. The neighbor finally came out and chewed me out from across the fence. I was chagrined. I was chastened. I was drunk. But a slunk back inside and got my friends to go home. Come Monday, my parents heard all about the party from our neighbor. They were embarrassed by me and for me. They apologized to the neighbor. I got chewed out and “in trouble.” Two years later my brother did the same thing and the cycle repeated. But it only happened once for each of us, in large part because there were repercussions because we had neighbors we could not avoid. Would we have never done it again had we been able to just pack up and leave on Sunday morning after the party and never see anyone around there again?

There are many other scary, worst case scenarios involving STRs. Just off the top of my head, I can imagine domestic abusers, stalkers, sex offenders, sex traffickers, labor and immigrant traffickers, and restraining-order subjects being able to use short-term rentals to stay close to an intended victim who would be none the wiser. (By comparison, most people can choose to avoid living close to a hotel or halfway house.) I can also imagine someone using short-term rentals to sell or manufacture drugs, or deal in stolen goods, steal package deliveries, fake a residential address for a false identity, and all sorts of other nefarious activities that do not involve the paradigmatic, out-of-control, capital-P Party.

This is why the “get-rid of the bad actors” rhetoric of AirBnB, VRBO, and their supporters who favor the continued deregulated state of short-term rentals rings so hollow: The bad actors are not really the owners who explicitly allow parties at their houses, it is the potentially bad guests themselves. And no amount or type of regulation by anyone anywhere is going to prevent an STR bent on conducting or doing nefarious things from doing so in a short-term rental. The level of background checks and spying that would be necessary to prevent it is not feasible, profitable, or probably even legal.

Rather, the most effective tool to prevent violent, illegal, antisocial behavior in a home is… You guessed it! Neighbors. Neighbors who will see something and say something. Neighbors who will notice things. Neighbors who are nosy. Neighbors who are just too friendly. Neighbors who are not friendly. Neighbors who take pictures. Neighbors with noses and ears and eyes. Neighbors who notice strange vehicles or remember that old boyfriend of another neighbor who happens to be in a house across the street.

And when those neighbors cease to be neighbors because the STR will not be there three days from now, that natural, social check on behavior ceases. It is replaced by code compliance complaints, 311 calls, 911 calls, and more strain on the city to do what we all should do as neighbors: Keep us accountable, keep us civil, and keep us safe.

Removing the “bad actor” short-term rental owners will never solve this problem because they are not the biggest problem. It might alleviate problems in a couple of locations (like my current home) where loud parties were a constant occurrence. But it won’t prevent the short-term rental that isn’t a problem until it is a problem (and it only takes one problem) when an STR with bad motives, a substance abuse problem, mental illness, etc. decides to use a short-term rental to do social or personal harm to others. They ways they can do so go far beyond parties and are, by-and-large, unique to short-term rentals. Hotels have staff and people across the walls. Hotels aren’t next door to an ex-girlfriend or spouse. Hotels have hallways and lobbies and cameras and license plate readers. Even long-term rentals have landlords who are invested in tenants able to keep paying rent for the remainder of the lease term, not just until Monday morning. Short-term rentals have none of those things. They are utterly unsupervised, simple to rent, anonymous to those nearby, and isolated. They are perfect for someone wishing to hide and do “bad things.” Can any person in any neighborhood do these things? Certainly. But is it as easy to do so in a long-term rental or owned home than a short-term rental? Certainly not.

No matter how nice they are a short-term renter will never be a neighbor, let alone a friend.

But as bad as those scary, headline-generating problems are, they are rare. They are very, very rare. So rare that while they should result in regulations or even banning of short-term rentals in some places, they pale in comparison to a more subtle harm that is in many ways worse. They death of neighbors and neighborhoods.

As a glut of global capital sloshes around chasing returns, corporations and funds are already buying up residential property by the thousands to rent to regular, long-term tenants. This is bad enough as it depersonalizes and consolidates landlords and will result in higher rents and worse service for tenants, as well as a 0 chance those houses will ever again become available for owner-occupiers or single-property landlords. But these same forces are also resulting in more and more of the housing stock of Dallas and other cities becoming short-term rentals.

The most recent Morning News article on the issue was full of just-so-slightly slanted reporting on the issue, such as the pronouncement that short-term rentals were currently “less than 1%” of Dallas’s residential housing units. It could and probably should have just as easily said “already nearly 1%….” Can you tell the difference? Dallas has ~500,000 houses. Notoriously hard to count, short-term rentals amount to somewhere between 1,200 and 5,000 or so of those units.

Why is that considered a small number by the DMN? Firstly, those units are not evenly distributed across town. Some neighborhoods have nearly 0. In others, short-terms rentals dot streets all around and could amount to 50% or more of residential houses (f/k/a “homes”) in a given neighborhood or on a given street. If you are an owner-occupier on such a street, how would never seeing a familiar face among your neighbors feel? What impact would it have on you? Eventually, would you sell to another short-term rental owner?

And, does anyone think the number and percentage of short-term rentals will ever plateau, let along stop, in the near future? What happens when short-term rentals make up 3% of Dallas’s housing stock? What about 5%? 10%? 25%? More? Add in to that the ever increasing corporate ownership of long-term, traditional rentals, all of which will only continue to bid up prices in an already increasingly unaffordable market and it is easy to imagine another step toward our society’s seemingly intentional plunge into the Bladerunner dystopia: A world where only the rich and very affluent can actually own a home or rent from the proverbial “little old lady down the street,” while the vast majority can only rent from a corporation or from AirBnB/VRBO and everyone is surrounded by the stranger next door.

Because the STR is always a stranger. No matter how nice they are or how innocuous or even admirable their reasons may be for taking a short-term rental, the STR will never be a neighbor, let alone a friend. Sociologists will tell you it takes 60+ hours of time spent with someone to develop the intimacy of real friendship, sixty hours before we really let our guards down, be real, open up, get past the small talk, develop inside jokes, and really start to care about someone else. Given our hectic lives, it can take five years or more to get past that sixty-hour mark with a neighbor two houses down that we get to see on a monthly basis. It can take a year or more for a next door neighbor we see every week. But with an STR who by definition will not be there more than 30 days, and usually no more than 3? Friendship will never happen. And because they are only staying there and not being here, an STR will never be a neighbor. Never.

And that is the large damage that short-term rentals cause. They destroy neighborhoods by taking away the neighbors. Permanently.

Apocryphal or not, a good rule of thumb (known is the Pareto Principle) would say that when 20% of a neighborhood is comprised of STRs, the entire neighborhood will begin to suffer a breakdown of neighborliness. You will recognize fewer faces on the street and at the park. You will talk to the people you meet there less, invest less time in them, ask them fewer questions, because it will become increasingly likely that they will respond with, “Oh, we’re only here for the weekend.” And when that critical threshold is reached, whatever percentage it might be, in a given neighborhood it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. It is increasingly likely that when a long-term renter leaves or when an owner-occupier sells, that the next tenant will be an STR and the next buyer will be a person (or more likely a company) intent on renting the home on AirBnB/VRBO. This will continue until eventually the neighborhood is nearly fully comprised of tenants of varying — short — terms.

And that is the large damage that short-term rentals cause. They destroy neighborhoods by taking away the neighbors. Permanently.

Some neighborhoods may suffer more than others. Poorer neighborhoods near entertainment districts and airports are usually the first victims. (And if you think I am overstating the risk, visit Nashville or Austin and stay at an AirBnb there. Then go outside and walk around the neighborhood you’re in.) But slowly short-term rentals expand into tonier neighborhoods near commercial and office districts. Then they target leafy neighborhoods with larger homes and lots that can be marketed as “urban resorts” or “your urban oasis” and the like. Eventually no neighborhood is safe because they can all be marketed. Exurb neighborhoods become “staycation” haciendas. Middle-class suburban neighborhoods can become crash pads for family in town for a marriage or a funeral or a family reunion. College neighborhoods for families visiting schools or those in town for the game or the big party. Working class neighborhoods near industrial areas are marketed to short-term or contract or seasonal labor. Lower-class neighborhoods that aren’t already wholly owned by typical landlords who tolerate bad housing conditions (to put it nicely) can become targets for short-term rental owners marketing to transient populations, undocumented immigrants, and others who might get a roof over their head for three nights, but at what expense in their own loss of the protection of even a lease and legal protections inherent in traditional landlord-tenant relationships. Even wealthy neighborhoods Dallas’s Park Cities can be targeted for modeling shoots, wedding receptions, movie filming, or simply a background for some aspiring Instagram influencer’s shots of #thislife.

Some of these STRs are understandable and not doing anything detrimental to anyone. They are just looking to save money. Trust me, I’ve traveled with a family by car and I understand the attraction of staying at a place where you can cook your own meals with food from a grocery store, not share bathrooms, have a back yard, and every kid gets their own bed. It can be a *lot* cheaper than staying in a hotel. And more fun! This is especially valuable for those with large families. There is nothing inherently wrong with staying at a short-term rental.

But the next time you stay at a short-term rental in a neighborhood that isn’t anywhere near bars or restaurants or amusement parks or offices or stadiums and the like, consider what your presence and absence is like for those that actually live there. They will never know you, or the next STR who stays there. You will never know them. You’re just staying here. They’re the ones being there. The neighbors who actually live in those neighborhoods, whether for 30 days or 30 years are the ones who are losing out. They are losing a potential neighbor, a potential friend for them or their kids, a fellow citizen and taxpayer. They are losing a neighbor. So that you can save some money and often times take a vacation you wouldn’t otherwise take and stay somewhere you otherwise wouldn’t just because AirBnB has made it possible. Could you have stayed at an extended stay hotel a little farther away? By staying in a neighborhood instead, are you externalizing a social cost for your own benefit? Think about the cost and impact that has on those around you.

This is when you probably expect me to call for a total ban on short-terms rentals. But I am not.

I try to recognize the limits of my own experience and opinions. I recognize that I am writing from my own perspective as a middle-aged, white, relatively affluent person living in a neighborhood of similar people in homes unaffordable to most people, and benefiting from the legacy of racial redlining and all the rest of the history of Dallas and the United States. What seems right to me may not seem right to everyone.

For example, I recognize the inherent property-rights issue involved in the short-term rental question, the one issue that may be most apparent to relatively wealthy people involved in the short-term rental debate, doesn’t even cut cleanly in this case. Yes, we property owners have the “Right” (especially in TEXAS!) to “do what we want with our property,” but at the same time we have the “Right” to “quiet enjoyment” of our property, to not to have our property values diminished by living next to a parade of strangers in a house owned by someone making a mockery of the zoning laws and HOA regulations that make our walled-garden lifestyle possible. What are the affluent to do?! (Clutch pearls?)

[It is funny as well how, often times the same affluent person who believes renters, even traditional renters, “just don’t take care of their houses” like owner-occupiers do, will change their tune when they discover they can keep their McMansion in Frisco and rent it for $1,000 a night when they decide they want to retire to Arizona. (Let their old neighbors deal with it, I guess? And if a tenant with a year-long lease doesn’t “take care of their house,” how is a tenant with a three-day rental agreement going to take care of it?)

I also recognize that property taxes being what they are in Texas, the fatter rental rates associated with short-term rentals of furnished properties become hard to turn down for those who have inherited a house, or who might want to rent out their starter home after they move up the ladder. The inheritance issue applies even more strongly for those who are from less affluent backgrounds. To inherit all or a part of grandma’s house can provide a tremendous leg up in the world for someone who might be the first in their family to go to college. And for them to be able to keep such a home, which may be mortgage free, and rent it out would be a tremendous wealth-building machine even compared to selling it and using the proceeds for tuition. And once grandma passes away, and especially without a homestead exemption, the increased rental value associated with short-term rentals versus traditional rentals may make the difference between having to sell an inherited home and being able to keep it. This can be a tremendous incentive for even an upper-middle-class inheritor to rent grandma’s house on VRBO. The incentive for a struggling young person from a poor background would only be stronger. (Or, we could have an income tax in Texas in exchange for dramatically lower property taxes like they do in all the states neighboring Texas, which would benefit nearly everyone in the state. But that’s the subject of another article.)

Working class and poor people who do own homes in less affluent areas will often also feel the forces of gentrifiers wishing to buy their bungalow that was perhaps worth $100,000 twenty years ago for half a million dollars today. The negative impacts of gentrification are beyond the scope of this essay, but what is plain is that money is a powerful force. For a poor person living near a bar and restaurant district in a destination city, where once no one wanted to actually live, the lure of an affluent person wanting to pay big money to remodel or scrape their old house is often irresistible and in certain areas, especially those near tourist destinations, owners looking to build or use existing homes for short-term rentals are willing to pay far more for such properties than traditional home buyers, thus fueling the short-term rental cycle. That money is a real force in minority and poor neighborhoods that have become short-term rental targets, and it is a reason why someone in such a neighborhood may oppose short-term rental regulations.

Also, not all neighborhoods are the same. There are huge neighborhoods in Dallas and elsewhere that even before AirBnB and VRBO came along were largely full of renters (especially young ones), old-style bed & breakfasts (BnBs before the “Air”), bars, restaurants, and the like. The people in those neighborhoods may very well welcome short-term rentals. If I was 23 and living in a house with three roommates, I might love to have a short-term rental next door. After all, it would only be more people to meet, party, and even hook-up with. It would also provide my young friends with a cheaper way to come visit together with more freedom than a hotel.

People living near hospitals and nursing homes might understand the value in residential housing being available short-term for those visiting loved ones in those places, and they may also be used to seeing new faces in the form of traveling nurses, resident doctors, visiting professors, etc. Same for neighborhoods near colleges where students and professors already come and go regularly.

This all largely comes down to expectations. Someone with kids and a 9 to 5 job who chooses to live in the middle of a neighborhood in Lake Highlands or Plano or Forest Hills with nothing but houses, churches, parks, and schools for a mile in all directions and no nearby thoroughfares has far different expectations than someone with no kids who tends bar and chooses to live in a duplex on Martel a block from the bars and restaurants on Lower Greenville. A 75 year old living in a 1950s ranch home in Casa Linda has different expectations of their neighborhood experience (and sidewalk traffic at midnight) than than a young professional who chooses to live in a newly built modern house walkable to the bars and restaurants on Knox-Henderson. Someone who chooses to live on Mockingbird and Matilda has different noise expectations than someone who chooses to live in Lochwood (I’ve lived in both places). Someone living a block from fraternity row by SMU has different expectations of what they might hear over their back fence than someone living in a subdivision in Richardson or Wylie. And so on…

For all these reasons, I am not advocating a ban, which I think has become the knee-jerk liberal response to anything corporations want to do.

But neither am I in favor of letting some internet startup “distrupt” a boring old legacy institution as vital as housing. Housing is already at critically unaffordable levels and the last thing we need are more buyers with nearly bottomless pockets able to pay premiums for houses to be used a profit centers rather than actual places for people to live rather than stay at.

And yet, there is a certain inevitability to this and in many place short-term rentals can work and may even be wanted by other residents.

Still, I also do not support a “patchwork quilt” of regulations. This is normally a rhetorical dodge and straw-man that business interests employ to resist any regulation at all. But it would certainly be true, especially at an intra-city level, that varying regulations would be flaunted and probably not practically enforceable anyway.

What I am in favor of is more democracy and more decisions made at the citizen level. There is a principle, whether it is called federalism or subsidiarity, that the functions of government should be performed as close to the level of the individual as they can be effectively performed. Defense and social security are clearly national level functions of government. Protection of the environment as well. Trash collection? Dog catcher? City level. Insurance? State level. And so on. All of it is debatable in its details, but the broad principle appeals to everyone. I can trade e-mails with my city councilperson, but not with my United States Senator. The closer government is to the people, the more responsive at is and the more happy are the citizens impacted by its functions.

So, considering the negative impacts of short-term rentals and the opposing positive impacts interests of varying neighborhoods, I think the most workable solution to the issue is for short-term rentals to be banned in those areas of the city that do not want them. By a vote. That would probably have to be at a precinct by precinct level, because even within city council districts there is huge variation in neighborhood interest.

If a precinct feels passionately enough against short-term rentals they can vote to keep them out. For instance, where something like the “We Say No to VRBO” coalition in Lochwood can organize enough to get a vote and prevail in that vote, then that is indication enough that the people in that place, in that neighborhood know best what they want and have weighed the risk and reward and should be able to decide that they do not want there neighborhoods impacted by STRs.

On the other hand, where that strong feeling and organization against STRs does not exist then by default they can operate there. The absence of such citizen organizing is a strong indication that the neighborhood is open to STRs and is probably the type of neighborhood where STRs already stay and visit without much incident, probably due to neighborhood expectations and existing residents. This would include entertainment districts, areas where commercial and residential areas meet, areas near hospitals, airports, colleges, etc. Commonly there are already largely renters living in these zones or other demographics that would not strongly object to STRs nearby and may even want them.

This would give more citizens more of a voice in how their neighborhoods are and how they will be. It will generate democratic action and keep more people happy more of the time.

STRs can be more effectively regulated citywide by one standard of regulation, whatever that is, that can be tailored for the expectation that short-term rentals are actually wanted. Where they are not wanted, there will be no regulation because there will be no short-term rentals.

As neighborhoods change, they can vote to allow short-term rentals. Disallowing them after they are already there would not be realistic, but that negative is far preferable to letting short-term rentals run rampant where they are not wanted, which will only generate strife in neighborhoods, more complaints, more city resources devoted to 311 and 911 calls, etc.

Alternatively, the zoning process can be used to ban or allow short-term rentals in various parts of town, but this process is less democratic. Sure, there will be hearings, but ultimately the decisions will be made by zoning committees and city staff, which will always be more influenced by the AirBnB/VRBO lobby. And the current zoning laws have already proven impotent or unenforced, resulting in hotels/boarding houses in single-family residential zones.

AirBnB/VRBO and their owners will always be more organized and more deep pocketed in their efforts to fight of short-term rental regulation than those that oppose them. Most people do not have strong feelings on short-term rentals until they live next to one, and their opposition is by its very nature diffuse. Because short-term rental owners and their online platforms have money to lose, they will always be more organized and incentivized than their opponents, many of whom would not know how they feel about the issue having not been confronted with it… yet. But that doesn’t mean that opponents of short-term rentals are wrong. It just means enough people haven’t been impacted by them… yet. But if short-term rentals are left unchecked, by the time enough people have been affected by them it will be too late; they will be everywhere and it will be impossible to root them out considering the property, reliance, and due process interests that will be at play by then.

Let us let small-scale democracy and civil society solve this problem, and not a top-down city-level decision that will undoubtedly be influenced most strongly by the concentrated economic interests of AirBnB/VRBO and the short-term rental owners.

A total ban on STRs, neighborhood by neighborhood, by vote, with the default being that regulated short-term rentals are allowed, is the best solution to make the most people the happiest.

One workable exception could be for owner-occupied short-term rentals. This would include the proverbial “old widow” who rents out a room in her house to a visiting student to help pay the taxes or the family with an apartment above the garage who rent it out to visitors to a nearby school or hospital to make ends meet. It is unequivocal that the vast majority of short-term rental owners are either companies or individuals with numerous properties, in many cases 25 or more, and having an on-premises owner eliminates nearly all the risks associated with short-term rentals. So this exception would eliminate the vast majority of short-term rentals in areas where they are disallowed by local vote. Even so, every exception is susceptible to being “gamed” and worked around, and despite every certification requirement and fine that may be imposed, even this simple exception would be difficult and costly to enforce in a city the size of Dallas. A total ban, neighborhood by neighborhood, by vote, with the default being that short-term rentals are allowed is the best solution to make the most people the happiest.

— J.P.

*Full disclosure, my family and recently purchased a home in East Dallas that had been used as a notorious VRBO “party house” on a quiet street in a quiet neighborhood with disastrous results for the nearby neighbors. Conversely, we are intending to rent our last home through AirBnB and VRBO. Though I would note that we would be seeking 30–120 day tenants ideally and our prior home is a townhouse on a busy street with adjoining renters and is zoned for “light office” use, not single family residential. So I think I offer a somewhat unique perspective on “both sides” of this multifaceted issue.

It's been a real leisure. [That picture is not me.--ed.]