April 12 2017
When my husband and I were out house-hunting recently, the Realtor explained that many homeowners on the street rent out their finished basements on a nightly or weekly basis to help offset high mortgages.
Imagining our three young children playing in the yard, we left and realized we need to ask a lot more questions before buying our next house.
We’ve chosen to take on a hefty mortgage in order to raise our family in a convenient and safe community. Now we’re outgrowing our little colonial and are looking to move up in size.
But I was taken aback to learn that my prospective new residential hamlet, just minutes from my current home, could be operating more like a hotel.
When I looked into the issue further, I learned many actual homeowners don’t even live at a residence, but rather used them exclusively to rent on a per-night basis.
That would mean that we wouldn’t have any idea who our new “neighbors” might be.
And it would almost certainly also mean more noise, traffic and garbage that we did not sign up for — as well as a lack of neighborhood cohesion that we value.
Free enterprise and innovation are key to a healthy society.
The sharing economy has certainly opened up whole new pathways for economic growth and competition.
New businesses like Airbnb offer families — especially women — low-cost ways to bring in revenue.
And these kinds of opportunities help a lot of families make ends meet, especially in urban centers like ours where the cost of living can be steep.
But the housing rental industry doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It also affects neighbors and communities.
As a homeowner, it alarmed me to imagine living on a street with a constant revolving door of residents.
In our current cul-de-sac, we know all our neighbors, and they respect that there’s a street full of children often outside on their scooters or drawing with chalk.
But it was clear that wouldn’t be the case if we moved into this new neighborhood.
The concerns I’m describing for a residential street also affect condominiums and apartment buildings, where the problem can be even more pronounced given shared walls and living space.
Not surprisingly, this short-term rental phenomenon is not just occurring in our city, but across the country, including Texas.
A report by CBRE, a commercial real estate services firm, found a growing number of supposedly residential properties being rented out just like hotels on sites like Airbnb in cities across the country.
According to the report, 81 percent of Airbnb’s U.S. revenue — $4.6 billion — comes from whole-unit rentals where the owner is not present during the time of the rental.
With little to no oversight from the law, the landlords who run these hotel businesses put the safety and security of our neighborhoods at risk.
State Sen. Kelly Hancock, R-North Richland Hills, has filed SB 451, a bill that would greatly restrict a city or county’s ability to adopt or enforce a local law to prohibit the use of a residential property as a short-term rental.
I don’t expect everyone to want the same thing as I do in my neighborhood — some cities and communities are going to be comfortable with more flexible laws about short-term rentals.
But a bill like this means homebuyers who want a more traditional community with long-term residents, that limits (or at least regulates) short-term rentals, would not be able to shop with their feet.
I’m not much of a neighborhood busy-body, but residents ought to have the right to choose the kind of community they live in.
My husband and I purposely chose to buy in a community that did not have an HOA or burdensome local ordinances that dictated the color of our mailbox, rooftop or fence style.
But that doesn’t mean that I don’t want to protect my investment (and my children).
To protect the interest of neighbors and communities, localities should consider requiring people renting out apartments, condos and even houses like a hotel to register with the city so we know who is coming in and out of our neighborhoods, and so they can share not only in the neighborhood’s great restaurants and shops, bike trails and parks but also in the tax burden.
The sharing economy is disrupting certain industries, waving in some much-needed competition.
But it’s creating legitimate concerns and challenges as well that we can’t just brush under the rug.
In addition to protecting innovation and economic growth, we also have to protect private property, which is at the heart of a free society, and give homeowners the option not to live in what essentially become commercial areas.
Sabrina L. Schaeffer is executive director of the Independent Women’s Forum.