Cracking down on short-term rentals used as ‘party houses,’ How a Houston Council Member wants to help you fight back

Generic photo of house party (AP Photo) (AP2009)

HOUSTON – Houston homeowners whose neighborhoods have been plagued by short-term rental properties being used for means other than lodging have become fed up. To help residents understand the intricacies, District F Council Member Tiffany Thomas is hosting a workshop later this month to give them the legal tools necessary to fight back.

Short-term rentals aren’t a new concept, and KPRC 2 has reported on how some have taken advantage of them as well as how cities are cracking down on rentals used as house parties. Even Airbnb has enforced stricter protocols to curb such actions.

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In a statement to KPRC 2, Airbnb says it has a “party ban” policy, that “prohibits disruptive and unauthorized parties in Airbnb listings as well as so-called ‘party houses,’ and violations can result in suspension or removal from the platform.”

However, it appears now more than ever, that some short-term rentals have been a hub for crime in Houston.

“What we’re noticing is that for those that are taking advantage of the system, and they’re using those properties for criminal activity, loud disturbances, large group parties, and then and sometimes even filming movies or, entertainment activities that are happening right there in the middle of a neighborhood,” Council Member Thomas said in an interview with KPRC 2.

“They’re popping up citywide,” Council Member Thomas continued “And I think over the last couple of years, we started hearing more issues. People are starting to come to Public Session and share concerns with council members. In District F, we’re seeing this issue in Alief, we’re seeing this in Tanglewilde, we’re seeing this in Briarmeadow.”

SEE ALSO: Home listed as ‘get-together spot’ on Airbnb, VRBO becomes huge problem for some neighbors in Spring Branch area

However, a solution to crack down on these short-term rentals isn’t as simple as calling the police or talking to your district council member.

“There has not been an apparatus in order for us to officially respond to this because, in Texas, private property is king and queen,” Council Member Thomas explained.

This does not mean hope is lost, though. Instead, Council Member Thomas says she wants to bridge the educational gap by holding a workshop on April 27th where homeowners can learn how to combat, through legal means, the growing short-term rentals used for house parties in their areas.

Council Member Thomas held a workshop like this in 2023 and got overwhelmingly positive feedback from attendees.

“They actually requested more information and more opportunities to really have one-on-one conversations with public safety officials, attorneys, and liaisons from various departments; Department of Neighborhoods, the Housing Department, so they can get what they need in order to protect their neighborhood,” she explained.

And those requests were heard, which is why this year’s workshop will have more to offer.

“We have invited the Harris County Tax Assessor, the Department of Neighborhood, City Legal, so they can talk about the five things that they actually can enforce and what’s available to the city and what’s available to homeowners,” Council Member Thomas said. “We are also, with the Department of Neighborhoods, bringing in someone to talk about code enforcement, which is also in interesting demand and also deeds upon death. Many of those, properties within neighborhoods, don’t have, the legal documents, in terms of protection and often turn into blight.”

SEE ALSO: ‘Took my pride and joy’: Family of North Shore HS football player fatally shot at house party shares his legacy

It should be noted, that by no means, is this an attempt at stopping residents who host short-term rentals and rely on them as a source of income. Regulations must be enforced and respect for your neighbors need to be considered, the Council Member stressed, especially for hosts.

“There are plenty of times that I reserve a short-term rental when I go on vacation or when I’m going to another city in the State of Texas,” Council Member Thomas admitted. “Our intention is never to disrupt someone’s business. You know, the City of Houston is open and we always say ‘we’re open for business,’ but for the individuals that are managing their properties, they’re doing them well, most neighbors probably wouldn’t even know that they are a short-term rentals because they are responsible, the properties are maintained and they have instituted and enforce their own guidelines.

“For those that may be concerned, it’s not about you, but we actually do need their help to help us smite out the ones that are causing the bad behavior and giving everyone a bad name,” she added. “Houston is a growing tourism city, and we want people to experience our neighborhoods, our city, our culture, and our food. But there’s a way that that can happen.”

Through these legal means and by everyone actively participating and learning, Council Member Thomas believes the City can work toward an actual solution, where other Texas cities were unsuccessful.

“I do believe that the administration is taking a serious look at this, in terms of our legal position as a city to offer an ordinance,” she said. “Other cities such as Dallas and Austin, have issued such ordinances which were struck down in the court. So we’re looking to see what our standing can be. We’re looking to see what regulation we can offer at a local level.”

Currently, things remain in the “exploratory phase,” Council Member Thomas said, but she expressed faith in city officials.

“Mayor [John] Whitmire was very clear that he wants to explore what’s available for us at the local level because we do have hotels that operate. And if this is, a matter of designating short-term rentals that exceed the baseline, then maybe they need to be designated as a ‘hotel within a residential,’” she said. “And that’s something we need to offer as a local ordinance. But our city legal, the mayor’s administration, and then also our outside counsel will advise us.”

“I do anticipate this item coming back up through a council committee so we can have public discussion, bring in some stakeholders, and really get a broader view of what’s actually happening in the city.”

The workshop will be held Saturday, April 27 at Tracy Gee Community Center in the heart of West Chase.

About the Author

Historian, educator, writer, expert on "The Simpsons," amateur photographer, essayist, film & tv reviewer and race/religious identity scholar. Joined KPRC 2 in Spring 2024 but has been featured in various online newspapers and in the Journal of South Texas' Fall 2019 issue.

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