Being There v. Staying Here

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash
© Reprise Records, 1996

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.)

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.

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.

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.



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