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'They’ve infiltrated our neighborhood': Dozens speak out about short term rentals at Dallas City Council meeting

The item is expected to go to committee for recommendation on May 17, and before the full council on June 9.
Credit: Byron Harris

DALLAS — Dallas City Council got an earful from residents on Wednesday, as the general public had its first chance to comment on short-term rentals in the city. 

The phrase "short-term rentals," or STRs, is shorthand for the rooms and houses rented for days, weeks or longer through AirBNB and Vrbo. Some of the 78 people who Zoomed their thoughts waited hours to speak because of a delay in the council agenda. 

Still, when the time came, they were ready.  

“They’ve infiltrated our neighborhood,” said Laura Palmer from the Bishop Arts district of STRs. 

Others described parking jams, burglaries and noise they attributed to these properties.

“They can take over a street,” added Matthew Roppolo. 

What’s clear is that hundreds of homeowners, from Lakewood to Lake Highlands to Lochwood to Oak Cliff, are boiling about what they said short-term rentals and “party-houses” - rented for a short time but used as celebration venues - have done to their neighborhoods.

The Zooming for the meeting wasn’t too reliable: there were non-starts, breakups and bad audio. Because speakers were limited to one minute, the most complete testimony may have come in the form of documents submitted by a coalition of neighborhoods.

Inside Airbnb: Dallas, a seven-page analysis of STR’s in the city, highlights glaring inadequacies in the city’s data. The city said in a report released last week that there are 2,229 STRs. Inside Airbnb, using data assembled from Airbnb’s commercial website, indicates there are 4,118. 

If Inside Airbnb is correct, the city is off in its count by half. The Inside Airbnb author is Murray Cox, who’s worked with San Francisco, New York City and the European Union.

Far from being one-room mom-and-pop rentals inside family homes, as the business is often painted to the public, Cox’s report shows nearly 60% of Airbnbs are run by people who own five or more properties. Three-quarters of owners run more than one property. 

As if to prove Cox’s point, speaking at Wednesday’s comment session were an airline pilot who owns properties in four states, another entrepreneur who owns six and a third who boasted he owned 17.  

Lochwood resident Mary Nagler wonders how all of this commercial activity can go down in a neighborhood zoned residential. She watched a single Vrbo house in her neighborhood (recently sold) create choked parking, garbage, yoga groups in a nearby park and a dead chicken in a public pond.

Credit: Byron Harris
Trash in front of a house on Prospect Avenue in Lakewood. Neighbors say it's a party house rented out short term.

Kate Hatterman in Oak Lawn is more than intrigued by the Airbnb across the street. 

“This is a boarding house with a revolving door of transient lodgers,” she wrote in a letter submitted Thursday.  

It’s a four-unit condo owned by a Larissa Gogol of Krasnodar, Russia until a year ago, according to the Dallas County Appraisal District. Gogol never lived on the property, which neighbors said is outfitted with bunkbeds to accommodate a lot of people.  

In 2020, the property was sold to Sanjay Shahani who also does not live there and owns no other property in Dallas, also according to DCAD records. These are not mom-and-pop owners.

It is the so-called party houses, though, that drew the most angry comments. Harrison Doe said he’s complained numerous times about a party house near him and the drug paraphernalia, garbage, beer bottles and noise it creates, to no avail. Jesse Zarazaga, an Southern Methodist University professor, wrote in a letter to the council that party houses are “horrific” in his Cochran Heights area.  

“Families don’t live here any more,” he said Wednesday.

Numerous STR owners said they were not the bad actors. Many spoke in favor of even-handed reform. Others, such as house cleaners paid to tidy numerous STRs for offsite owners, or managers, paid to run multiple properties for absentee owners, said they depended on the properties for jobs. Expedia, the corporate owner of Vrbo, said they were ready to help.

A representative for AirBNB spoke during the comment period as well. Luis Briones, the government affairs lead in Texas, encouraged the council to seek further public input, including from hosts and those who stay at AirBNBs, as they weigh their options. 

"AirBNB is an important source of income for Dallas families and brings economic benefits to neighbors throughout the city," said Briones. 

He said the company has been working with city leaders and neighbors, as well as the Dallas Short Term Rental Association to address concerns about party homes.

After simmering through city council for two years, the item is scheduled to go to the Quality of Life, Arts & Culture Committee on May 17 for a committee recommendation, and City Council action by June 9. 

David Schwarte, an Arlington attorney who co-founded the Texas Neighborhood Coalition, and has followed AirBNB regulation in several cities, says a more thorough evaluation is needed. 

“It needs to go to the City Planning Commission,” he said.

The words of Amelia McVay of Lake Highlands lingered after all the zooming was over. 

“If you kill your neighborhood, you kill your city.”