Tragic Murder in Plano and Short-Term Rentals
I'm late addressing this, for a variety of reasons, the main one being that I'm careful to make sure I have the facts before I speak.
Last Saturday night, November 16, Marquel Ellis Jr., a 16 year old student at Allen High School, was tragically murdered at a house party in East Plano after several teenagers were asked to leave, then one or more returned and fired shots into the house, striking Ellis. Kemond Smith, 17, of Forney has been arrested in connection with the murder, and a warrant issued for Christian Treyshun Hill, 18, of Dallas. Anyone with information on Hill's whereabouts is asked to call 911 or Crime Stoppers at 877-373-8477. All tipsters can remain anonymous and are eligible for a reward of up to $5,000.
The focus of this tragedy has quickly become the fact that the home at which Ellis was murdered is a short-term rental property, owned by a commercial business, A-1 Commercial and Residential, Inc., and was listed on several online rental sites. Neighbors said that there were always people coming and going, and the house was rented out frequently on the weekends for parties.
WFAA reported "This home is a short term rental property, but at some point today the listing on rental site Vrbo was taken down. Screenshots show it was advertised with 17 beds and was going for more than $500 per night."
Some Texas cities have passed ordinances restricting or outright banning short-term rentals, but some, such as Grapevine, and Austin, are facing lawsuits for it, and therein lies the rub. Plano City Attorney Paige Mims has informed me that the Texas Attorney General's position is that cities cannot prohibit short-term rentals because it amounts to an unconstitutional infringement on property owner rights. In lawsuits, property owners are contending that ordinances restricting short-term rentals violate due process, equal protection, freedom of movement, freedom of privacy, and freedom of assembly rights, as well as exceeding cities' zoning authority. Moreover, last year, the Texas Supreme Court ruled against HOA enforcement of short-term rentals which considered similar legal issues.
Two things can true at the same time:
Property owners have certain rights pertaining to their property and its use
Those rights have limits as they pertain to the impact on adjoining property owners' rights
I like the expression: " My right to swing my fist ends where your nose begins."
Just as homeowners may lease their homes to renters rather than choose to live in them themselves, hotels are not permitted to be built and operated in the middle of a residential neighborhood.
A home with 17 beds, where nobody actually lives, but is regularly rented out for parties by a commercial owner, is not a home. It may not even be a hotel, but rather an events venue, and I'll happily argue that to anyone, from the property owner to Ken Paxton. Whatever its classification, it's a commercial establishment, and it doesn't belong in the middle of a residential area. If A1 wants to lease commercial property, they can apply for a commercial permit in a commercially zoned part of the city. We do have zoning authority to distinguish and separate residential from commercial areas and properties.
If a homeowner has an extra room to rent and wants to let it out on a short-term basis, that's reasonable. I think it's likewise reasonable to allow short-term rentals in between longer-term rentals, within appropriate guidelines. The litmus test should be: would you want to live there? If the answer is no, because there are always loud parties, or a hundred cars, or gunfire, then there's clearly something wrong, and the city should be able to protect neighbors' rights while not infringing on the property owners' rights. That's what government is for, after all--to protect everyone's rights, and balance when there are conflicts.
I do want to be very clear that this senseless murder was not caused by the fact that this was a short-term rental property, any more than it was caused by the gun. It was caused by an evil mindset which says it's perfectly acceptable to shoot up a house which you've been asked to leave. That's a philosophy which has no place in our society, and which we must root out and diligently prevent at every turn. That said, there are certain circumstances which exacerbate and enable such a mindset: unsupervised teenagers, a reckless rental practice (which 21+ adult actually booked and paid for it in the first place?), neighbors powerless to do anything but report noise and traffic concerns.
I'm confident that there are reasonable steps we can take to mitigate such circumstances and ensure a safe community, all the while respecting property owners' constitutional and legal rights. I'll look for solutions within the law, and if the law hasn't caught up to concept of modern short-term rentals and their associated issues, then I'll work with our State Legislators to rectify it in Austin--and then I'll work to address it in Plano.