Chapter one: Why aren't Midland and Odessa enforcing the rules?
Twelve years ago, the short-term rental service Airbnb made its debut. Since then, states, cities and counties across the U.S. have been trying to figure out how to regulate its services.
Renting an Airbnb is as easy as the click of a button.
Searching for a place to stay on their website or app brings endless opportunities.
"A lot of people see Airbnb's as a good alternative to hotels or motels and you can get more of a feel for a city," Sandy Rollins, Texas Tenants' Union Executive Director said.
Sandy Rollins said she sees the good it brings to economies.
But on the flip side...
"An issue that we've heard about (is) from people who are living nearby in a small building that has vacationers that are partying, and they have to get up to go to work the next day," Sandy said.
That's why more and more city governments are getting involved.
Places like Waco, New Braunfels and San Antonio are taking matters into their own hands by regulating and taxing hosts.
So far no ordinances exist in Midland.
"Airbnb's, we don't have any regulations on it ...We don't regulate who your clients can be assuming that most of those places in there have some sort of screening procedure," Chuck Harrington, Midland Development Services Director said.
And as for Odessa...
"No, there's not," Sammy Quiroz, Odessa Building Official said.
So the simple answer is no-neither city regulates short term rentals.
Each city classifies them in different ways.
In Midland, there are 300+ rentals listed on the Airbnb site. Technically the city classifies those rentals as bed and breakfasts.
Under that classification the Airbnb hosts have to create an application with the city and their rental has to be approved by planning and zoning and city council. They also must notify neighbors within 200 feet.
The Airbnb needs to be located outside the city limits. Seeing as it's labeled as a bed and breakfast, the Airbnb would be inclined to provide a meal and the Airbnb host needs to live in the same residence.
In Odessa there are also 300+ listings for rentals, but those rentals fall under the boarding or tourist house category. This means the rentals must be located in a multi-family zone, light commercial area or in the downtown district.
The rentals need to follow Odessa building codes as well as city zoning ordinances. They must also fill out an application, obtain inspections from the city and fire marshall and receive a certificate of occupancy.
Every year the fire marshall's office is required to check the property and the Airbnb host needs to renew their permit.
The biggest problem is applications are rarely even filled out by Airbnb hosts.
"To be honest with you I haven't had anybody come in and apply for an Airbnb," Quiroz said.
"I don't think we've had anybody make an application for a bed and breakfast I know in at least the last 2 or 3 years," Chuck said.
That means no one is really keeping track of where Airbnb's are located and it is up to you to do the legwork when it comes to safety and security.
"With the short term rental ordinance it's basically the regulation of the dwelling. The homeowner would be primarily responsible for having insurance and it's up to the homeowner to do their due diligence in researching the people that are going to rent their house," Natasha Brooks, Odessa's City Attorney said.
And that's no easy task.
Something city officials are well aware of.
"To be honest it's a little bit difficult for us to enforce and track down. First place, staff wise, having someone to totally enforce those, but secondly it's hard for us to find those," Chuck said.
"The only way that we would probably is if we got a complaint from a homeowner or resident," Quiroz said.
But so far there's never been a complaint in Odessa and just 3 in Midland.
"So with complaints then, is it that you're holding off until something goes wrong?" Newswest 9's Rachel Ripp said.
"That question I can't answer," Brooks said.
This leaves no guarantee for renters and cities trying their best to manage the hosts.
Airbnb global regulation:
Airbnb requires hosts to get background checks, but that's not always the case when renting outside the country.
Another thing to note, according to the ID and verification clause on their website, not all background checks by Airbnb guarantee all criminal history has been identified.
Their website shows while the company offers free smoke detectors and carbon monoxide monitors to hosts, they don't require confirmation that the equipment has been installed.
If you're looking to rent an Airbnb outside the Basin, the company has a list of regulations for several cities.
Here is that link so you are up to code: https://www.airbnb.com/help/article/961/what-regulations-apply-to-my-city
Chapter two: Impacts on the economy
For hosts, Airbnbs can be a good thing and bring in a lot of cold hard cash.
Anyone who rents a home on a short-term basis through Airbnb can charge whatever amount they'd want per night.
But Odessa Board of Realtors CEO Connie Coots said having different tenants in and out of a home in a neighborhood isn't a selling point for new home buyers.
"There's a lot of times that homeowners don't want to buy a property that they know that there's going to be a tenant that's gonna change every day because there could be a stigma that's put on properties when they get ready to sell a home," Coots said.
She says people have a picture of what kind of life they'd like in a neighborhood.
A rotating pool of neighbors doesn't exactly paint the perfect picture of a home with a white picket fence.
"(When) people buy in a neighborhood they want to normally get to know their neighbors, and they buy there knowing that they're not buying next to a hotel or a motel," Coots said.
But while living next to an Airbnb property might be a nuisance, it doesn't look like that alone is enough to create any economic damage.
Local realtor Tonya Gonzalez manages about 500 properties here in the Basin and she said she notices the positive impact short term rentals have had on some other cities in Texas.
"I don't think it's gonna hurt an economy ... I think it could have a benefit both ways. Fredericksburg has them everywhere and it's helped their economy a lot," Gonzalez said.
She's not wrong, because it's helped the economy here as well.
The Texas Comptroller reports Airbnb's total revenues for 2018 in Midland as roughly $2 million. For 2019 in Midland it's over $7.5 million.
That's more than three times as much money compared to the year before.
In Odessa, the Texas Comptroller reports nearly $34,000 of Airbnb revenue in 2018 and over $61,000 in 2019.
Again, that's significantly more money in 2019, nearly double the amount over one year.
So overall, if we compare Midland to Odessa, Midland made significantly more. Nevertheless, both cities are cashing in on short term rentals.
As far as affecting hotel and motel business, hotel managers here in the Basin say Airbnbs are not the culprit.
Here are a couple of comments about Airbnbs from local hotel management:
- If anything ever steals or limits business, it's the fluctuation of the oil industry, not short-term rentals.
- We've had a fairly consistent flow of customers since Airbnb became popular.
So whether you love them or hate them, everyone has an opinion about Airbnbs and for the time being, it doesn't appear anything is changing about the way they do business in the Basin.
Chapter three: Neighbors of Airbnb
All homeowners experience new neighbors every now and then, but living next to an Airbnb is a little different.
"We don't know who's going in and out. We don't know what's going on. We don't know who the people are," Debbie Harkrider, an Airbnb neighbor said.
This is Debbie and Ronnie Harkrider's new normal.
The Harkriders live directly next door to a home that has been listed as a short-term rental on Airbnb since October of 2018.
"Before, we knew everybody in the block, all the kids knew each other, everybody knew everybody and that's just not like that anymore," Debbie said.
The couple said their quiet cul-de-sac where children play was turned upside down when this listing appeared on Airbnb.
"When you don't know what's next door with these young kids playing on the street, with the traffic they bring and you just don't know who it is, who is in your neighborhood," Ronnie said. "It puts you on edge."
To make matters worse, records from the Ector County Appraisal District show the home's owner is not the same as the person listed on the Airbnb application or the Airbnb website.
"We woke up one morning on a Saturday and there were 8 cars parked in front of that house just right behind each other in this cul-de-sac. Eight different cars," Debbie said.
As we told you previously, an Airbnb operating in this specific zone within the City of Odessa is not permitted.
"If the zone is considered single family residence, then you cannot have an Airbnb located in that area," said Sammy Quiroz, Odessa building official.
We verified with the city that this Airbnb's address is in a single family residence.
We also reached out to them for a statement and they told us they will look into this complaint.
"I've complained. We've complained to the police, I've called the city. The only thing the city of Odessa told me was that they're planning on maybe having some rules set up and they're planning on having a meeting about it, but they don't know when. Took my name and number and I said yes I'd love to be a part of it. We haven't heard anything else about any of it," said Debbie.
So for now, the Harkriders are hoping someone will step in and help them. Until then, they're keeping a closer eye on the neighborhood, just to play it safe.
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