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New Dallas zoning ordinance leaves many short-term rentals in violation

A photograph picturing the Dallas City Hall building in the background and a tree in the foreground.
Keren Carrión
Dallas city council members decided late Wednesday to use zoning to regulate short-term rentals.

After an hours long debate that lasted well into Wednesday night, Dallas city council members voted 12-3 to use a zoning ordinance to deal with short-term rental issues.

The newly adopted ordinance will try to regulate STRs by outlawing the properties from single-family zoned areas in the city. Proponents call this the KISS option — or “keep it simple solution.”

The new ordinance was expanded to allow STRs in multi-family zoned districts and must have include off-street parking, in a wave of last-minute motions to amend the contentious KISS option.

That policy was also accompanied by a registration ordinance aimed at regulating the STRs currently operating in multi-family areas.

The decision will make the vast majority of currently operating STRs across the city in violation of the ordinance. Now, the city must begin the process of enforcement.

The vote comes after a years-long battle between residents, STR owners and city council members. One group of residents opposed to the properties in residential communities say they’ve been terrorized by wild parties, crime and armed tenants at STRs.

Those that own the properties say they should not be penalized for the actions of what they say, are a small group of bad actors.  

Both the registration and zoning ordinance will become effective immediately, but enforcement of both will being in six months.

Council members and those in attendance at Wednesday’s meeting are celebrating the closure of a contentious issue.

“I really want to thank all of the residents…who have made my mission very clear,” District 14 Council Member Paul Ridley said at the end of the meeting.

But city staff and some Dallas officials say the real work has yet to begin.

"In my opinion...zoning is a much more complicated and inefficient tool to reduce short-term rentals and address the problems they bring," District 11 Council Member Jaynie Schultz said Wednesday evening.

'Not a problem I created...'

In 2021 the plan commission recommended a ban of STRs in single-family zoned areas of the city. The recommendation remained the focus of city staff for years.

Residents have called the KISS solution as the only viable option to deal with what they call chaotic house parties.

Jack Kocks lives in District 11. He says a rental in his neighborhood was the scene of at least one party that turned into chaos.

“The event, posted on social media, drew hundreds of underaged teens that converged on our neighborhood,” Kocks said during a June council meeting. “They brought with them guns, drugs and alcohol.”

Kocks said before the night was over, one person had been shot and yards were littered with “beer bottles and shell casings.”

Those who onw the rental properties say the vast majority of operators are responsible, pay their city taxes and do not allow wild parties.

“This is not a problem I created, I should not be punished for it,” short-term rental owner Denise Lowry said during a June council meeting. “My intention is to run my business for the benefit of our community.”

According to data presented by city staff on numerous occasions, identified STRs in residential areas accounted for around 3% of service calls between January and April of this year.

During the same time both 311 and 911 received over a million calls.

80% of the city’s identified STR properties “generated zero calls” for over a hundred call types city staff analyzed.

Many opposed to STRs in residential neighborhood say if the city banned the properties, there would be more affordable housing.

Schultz says often, the same people lobbying for a ban of STRs are also opposed to affordable housing.

“The best way to provide more housing in our city, which KISS supporters claim they want to assist with, is the constant fight with many of the same people about allowing more density around sing-family residences,” Schultz said Wednesday evening. “If they are sincere about addressing these problems the answer is not only more apartments, but more density on existing large lots…that people can afford to purchase.”

In a move that surprised council members and residents, city staff recommended against the CPC option of banning the rentals in single-family districts.

Julia Ryan is the director of planning and urban design. She says Dallas has a history of improper use of zoning ordinances.

“We as a city use zoning as a tool for things that aren’t zoning,” Ryan said during an early June council meeting. “We are now dealing with a lot of those consequences.”

The memo, makes it clear that prior to the heated debate over the issue at earlier in the month, “staff did not prepare a professional recommendation.”

“Not once have I ever heard your recommendation in our countless talks,” Deputy Mayor Pro Tem Omar Narvaez said earlier in the month. “That’s why I am perplexed right now.”

Dallas City Manager T.C. Broadnax told council members to come to Wednesday’s meeting prepared to decide on the issue. Broadnax also said the idea that city staff’s recommendation was last minute, is wrong.

“I do not want to let any narrative linger that staff has done anything but perform their work appropriately,” Broadnax said. “Staff has consistently offered recommendations and input.”

'A falling knife'

City staff must now start getting ready to enforce the new ordinances, now that council members have voted to use zoning to remedy the issues.

Staff members have said if council accepts the city plan commission recommendation the enforcement would be difficult and costly. They also say there would be a lot of “illegal land use” to enforce because of the proposed ordinance. That’s why city staff is recommending that code enforcement needs to be under a registration ordinance.

Director of Code Compliance Services Chris Christian says the best way to regulate STRs is to use the registration system.

“It gives code enforcement the tools necessary to cite the owners for violations of t registration,” Christian said Wednesday evening. “As well as the funding and resources and staffing to enforce the ordinance.”

Code compliance says it will take up to six months before enforcement of the new ordinance will start. Other city officials were hesitant to endorse the CPC recommendation because of legal implications.

Mayor Pro Tem Carolyn King Arnold says the city shouldn’t back down on the issue because of a legal fight.

“I fear no courts,” Arnold said. “I am here because of a court. Somebody had to fight so I could be here…so I don’t mind fighting.”

And as council members — and residents who stayed late into the night to see how the vote would turn out — celebrate the closure of a long controversy, some officials still expressed hesitation as the new ordinance moves forward.

“We are ready to catch this falling knife,” Schultz said. “And I hope we’re not too badly injured.”

Got a tip? Email Nathan Collins at You can follow Nathan on Twitter @nathannotforyou.

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Nathan Collins is the Dallas Accountability Reporter for KERA. Collins joined the station after receiving his master’s degree in Investigative Journalism from Arizona State University. Prior to becoming a journalist, he was a professional musician.