Short-Term Rental Used as Local Brothel Sparks Debate

Real Estate

A short-term rental property was allegedly involved in a sex trafficking scheme. | Image by NBC DFW

Some Plano residents demanded accountability and zoning oversight from city council members this week after a short-term rental (STR) property was allegedly involved in a sex trafficking scheme.

In late September, two North Texas police agencies swarmed a Plano home as part of a multi-agency investigation into sex trafficking.

The Dallas police department (DPD) said it first received a tip about the ring in July, which led DPD detectives and Plano police department investigators to a home located in the 2900 block of Las Palmas Lane in Plano.

Two women were arrested during the investigation: Brandy Cliff, 41, for aggravated promotion of prostitution, and Madison Hatcher, 22, on a warrant for assault out of Hays County, according to DPD detectives.

Monday’s city council meeting was an opinion-packed occasion as short-term rentals were heavily scrutinized and proposed rules around the polarizing issue were debated in the aftermath of the sex trafficking investigation.

During the meeting, council members weighed in on methods to regulate STRs following the alleged incident but warned of possible hurdles as the legal landscape is complex. Still, the council said it would consider implementing a mandatory licensing program requiring STR property owners to register with the city.

Traditional homeowners, neighborhood advocates, and the Texas Neighborhood Coalition of Plano (TNCP) have long sought to regulate STRs. These groups urged city council members to pursue all legal avenues to prevent and limit their usage in residential neighborhoods.

“The law is clear and in our favor — that these are prohibited in our neighborhoods,” Bill France of the TNCP claimed. “Any interpretation of our ordinance that would allow this is a twisting of the truth.”

However, there are few short-term rental rules and regulations at the state level that a host in Texas must comply with. In fact, in 2018 the Texas Supreme Court ruled in favor of short-term renters and against laws restricting their use.

That being said, the ruling didn’t directly address regulations by some Texas cities that restrict a homeowner’s use of services like Airbnb. Therefore, local county and city authorities have some flexibility to impose laws that regulate the home rental industry, according to Avalara, a software company for automated tax compliance.

Plano officials claimed STRs do not lie within the jurisdiction of current zoning ordinances, which only prevent hotels, motels, boarding houses, and bed & breakfasts from existing in single-family residential neighborhoods.

However, city attorneys tasked with researching the legality of regulating STR properties suggested the legal battle would be an uphill one, pointing to precedent that weighs against laws prohibiting or limiting short-term rentals.

Nevertheless, some homeowners demand more action be taken to regulate STRs. “We need someone to look out for the constituents,” former North Texas resident Connie White told The Dallas Express.

White said she recently relocated to New Mexico because of what she considers a “bought-and-paid-for scheme” in Dallas to alter zoning ordinances in favor of large corporations who buy properties and re-list them as STRs.

“Neighborhoods are upset because these zoning changes are being made to benefit the big-money players,” White told The Dallas Express.

“I just didn’t want to live in Dallas anymore because of it,” White said.

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