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‘Dallas sex dungeons’: North Texans warn against passing short-term rental bills

 Plano police made arrests related to a sex-trafficking ring at a short-term rental at Las Palmas Lane in September.
Jacob Wells
Plano police made arrests related to a sex-trafficking ring at a short-term rental at Las Palmas Lane in September.

North Texans told state legislators on Wednesday that a proposed bill would lead to “unregulated party houses.”

Andrew Muras from Grapevine attended the Texas House Land and Resource Management Committee hearing with his teenage daughter. Muras is a cofounder of the Texas Neighborhood Coalition, which wants to ban short-term rentals in residential neighborhoods.

The committee heard testimony on House Bill 2367. The bill would allow property owners to rent out their property as an amenity unit. If passed, property owners could rent out amenities like pools or gazebos for 15 hours or less to tenants who aren’t renting the unit as a place to stay.

Members of the Texas Neighborhood Coalition, which now has 15 chapters, call it “the party house bill.”

Rep. J.M. Lozano wrote the bill. He said it provides regulatory clarity on an emerging, not the rental of an entire home.

“This is not a short-term rental bill,” Lozano said.

If passed, the bill would allow local government entities to require people who want to rent out their properties as an amenity unit to register their units and pay fees. The bill would also create a penalty system for violations – but the burden of proof for revoking registration after a third violation would be on the government entity.

Carmen Armstrong from Fredericksburg said during her testimony at the committee meeting that the party house across the street from her home wakes her up at odd hours of the night — even though her home has thick walls and eight-foot-high fence.

“It’s the gate of Hades for most residents in these neighborhoods,” Armstrong said. “It's awful. And on every weekend, I never know what I'm going to get.”

Jessica Black from Arlington said during her testimony that the houses used for parties are commercial event venues in the middle of residential neighborhoods with no one on site to regulate behavior. Black is also a cofounder of the Texas Neighborhood Coalition.

“HB 2367 would allow any home in my neighborhood to suddenly be converted into an unregulated party house or worse, like the sex dungeon that can be rented out by the hour operating in a residential neighborhood in Dallas,” she said.

Muras said these types of units lead to an increase in crime. There was a shooting at a party outside a Plano short-term rental late February. A bullet went through the window of a three-year-old’s playroom. Plano Police also arrested two people involved in a sex-trafficking ring at a short-term rental in September.

Members of the Texas Neighborhood Coalition also testified against HB 2789. The bill would allow property owners to build accessory dwelling units on their land. It also forbids cities or counties from forbidding property owners from building accessory dwellings or from selling or renting those units.

Muras said that bill would eliminate the concept of single-family residential zoning. He said investors who buy properties will build accessory dwellings on their properties rent them out as short-term rentals to maximize profits.

“If I'm an investor, the first thing I'm going to do is, I'm going to build one or more to use on every single property I get,” Muras said.

Both Holland and Lozano received campaign donations from the Texas Realtors Political Action Committee. The Realtor association filed arguments on behalf of short-term rental owners in Arlington in 2020 when a lawsuit against the city over its short-term rental regulations made it to an appeals court.

Trey Bates, the vice president of government affairs at Texas Realtors, said in a previous interview with KERA that property owners have the right to turn their properties into short-term rentals.

“If you own your property, you should be able to be the one that makes the decisions about who lives in it,” Bates said.

But Muras said property rights aren’t unlimited. He said the proposed bills put certain property rights above others.

“In essence, what these bills are saying are the commercial operators have property rights,” he said. “Homeowners and residents don't have property rights.”

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Caroline Love is a Report For America corps member for KERA News.

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Caroline Love covers Collin County for KERA and is a member of the Report for America corps. Previously, Caroline covered daily news at Houston Public Media. She has a master's degree from Northwestern University with an emphasis on investigative social justice journalism. During grad school, she reported three feature stories for KERA. She also has a bachelor's degree in journalism from Texas Christian University and interned with KERA's Think in 2019.