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Houston Short-Term Rentals Are A ‘Serious Problem,’ Mayor Says

Some Houstonians complain they have been living in a nudity- and drug-fueled nightmare for years due to bad behavior at neighboring short-term rentals.

Mayor John Whitmire says he’s ready to do something about it.


Owners of residences in the Museum District, Galleria area, Tanglewood and other neighborhoods are renting their properties out like hotels and should be regulated as such, Whitmire told KHOU 11.

“I’m running into so many issues where they’ve been covered up or ignored for years,” Whitmire said in an interview with the TV station. “The short-term rentals are a serious problem, affecting quality of life issues.”

Whitmire said he planned to make cracking down a priority, adding that he is already working with the city attorney to alleviate the problem, according to the report. 

The issue rose to prominence after a public city council session last week that drew a number of residents eager to speak out about nuisances at homes being rented through Airbnb and Vrbo.

Museum District resident Kathryn McNeil said she has tried and so far failed to solve the problem in her neighborhood, which took a turn for the worse when one owner bought several nearby homes for rental, Chron reported. Most recently, she was put into the middle of an argument while walking her dogs between a woman and her boyfriend, who “had just beaten the crap out of her.”

“We have worked hard to get the landlord knocked off Airbnb, but just this past weekend, we found the landlord on Vrbo and Expedia,” McNeil said, according to the outlet.

Short-term rental guests are accused of hosting loud parties, drug use, domestic violence and, in one case, having sex on a balcony in front of neighbors.  Whitmire said he has seen photos of nudity, drugs and alcohol at short-term rentals. Neighbors told KHOU 11 that they have heard gunshots.

Houston has proposed short-term rental regulations in the past, but the city legal department often met them with hesitation, Council Member Sallie Alcorn said, according to Chron. If short-term rentals faced the same regulations as hotels, they would face different rules and tax codes, KHOU 11 reported. 

“The previous administration would never declare that it is a hotel, which has regulations that can be enforced,” Whitmire said. “So I’m really ready to get after it.”

Other cities have taken a stricter approach to short-term rentals. The Dallas City Council voted in June to restrict the presence of companies like Airbnb and Vrbo in single-family neighborhoods, though a Dallas County judge in December blocked the city from enforcing the ordinance. The ban could have depleted the city’s short-term rental stock by up to 95%.

New York City requires all short-term rental hosts to register with the city to ensure their listings comply with building and occupancy regulations. Airbnb sued New York City over the law, claiming $85M in damages.