PLANO, Texas — Council members from the city of Plano faced growing demands to regulate and control short-term rentals more efficiently Monday night after police busted an alleged sex trafficking ring utilizing one last month.
However, attorneys hired to research the topic for the city informed council members that legal hurdles await, citing recent court battles cities lost after trying to prohibit or limit short-term rentals (STRs) in Texas and abroad.
At the very least, the council is considering requiring short-term rental property owners to register with the city or get a license so that its code enforcement office and police could better enforce nuisance violations with fines and fees.
However, the Texas Neighborhood Coalition of Plano is asking the city to explore all legal avenues to prevent STRs from existing in residential neighborhoods.
A zoning ordinance already exists prohibiting hotels, motels, boarding houses, and B&Bs in single-family residential areas.
However, city officials said at the meeting that STRs don't explicitly fall under those outlined definitions, making it difficult to enforce.
"The law is clear and in our favor—that these are prohibited in our neighborhoods," Bill France of the Texas Neighborhood Coalition of Plano said. "Any interpretation of our ordinance that would allow this is a twisting of the truth."
The Dallas Police Department (DPD) said it first received information about the ring in July, which led the detectives to a home located in the 2900 block of Las Palmas Lane in Plano. The investigation led to special detectives executing a search warrant on Sept. 22 with assistance from the Plano Police Department.
Police determined during the operation the home was a short-term rental being utilized for a sex trafficking ring, and detectives arrested Brandy Cliff, 41, for aggravated promotion of prostitution, and Madison Hatcher, 22, on a warrant for assault out of Hays County.
DPD said several other people at the home were also questioned and released.
The bust has fueled residents and homeowners to ask city council members to do more regarding short-term rentals.
Many spoke in support of more enforcement at Monday night's meeting.
But simply put, legal challenges to short-term rentals are both in flux and evolving.
Council members were warned that the courts and Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton have sided with short-term rental property owners as cities attempt to regulate them.
Some council members are concerned about paying large attorneys fees if they wage a legal fight that has no chance.
The most defensible course of action for now, per the attorneys, was licensing and registration.
France also urged the city to explore what the city of Arlington has done to regulate short-term rentals.
You can learn more about that here.
Through data, the city adopted a zoning ordinance that allows STRs to operate in certain districts around the city but not anywhere.
Officials from the Plano Police Department revealed that just 105 calls for service surrounded short-term rentals from January 2022 to September 2022.
Sixty calls included noise complaints regarding parties, alcohol and drugs.
Eighteen surrounded parking, and eleven encompassed civil disputes.
There were also 2,735 noise complaints throughout Plano during that period. Officials said that 1.6% or 45 came from short-term rentals.
Popular short-term rental companies like Airbnb and Vrbo have been more in the news than usual regarding loud party houses that have sometimes turned violent and deadly.
Both companies reaffirmed cracking down more on those properties.
Suzanne Pappas told WFAA that she lives across the street from a short-term rental and said that she doesn't know how things will go each week based on who is renting.
"I want our city to enforce its rules," Pappas said. "Make it so a short-term rental cannot exist in a neighborhood like ours."