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Misinformation surrounding vacation rentals | Guest column

by Linda Bannerman

The county should reject implementing vacation rental caps. Such an ordinance would be a failure on the part of the county in its responsibility to make policy legal and fair to all. The ordinance would trample on the rights of property owners. Based upon “federal constitutional grounds,” the Texas Supreme Court concluded, “The ability to lease property is a fundamental privilege of property ownership.” Any action limiting that right should never be done lightly, but to do so without evidence of harm would be egregious.

Much misinformation has been offered around the issues of affordable housing, neighborhood disruptions, widespread community support of caps, degradation of the environment, rising real estate prices and more. But the community has been provided empirical evidence proving the claims of those urging caps are largely unfounded.

Our community proves that capping VRs would have little impact on the inventory of affordable housing. Few vacation rentals are “affordable” anyway. There are affordable units currently available for renters with a clean rental history. Agencies have matched a number of renters with units over the past year. The claim of a shortage of long-term rentals has been exaggerated. Seasonal housing for workers is another issue to be served by finding effective solutions, but it would never be solved by limiting VRs.

Those complaining of noise have repeatedly offered the same few examples as though this is a frequent occurrence when data shows it is not. They have also admitted they are unwilling to use the remedies already in place. Curtailing rights of property owners to rent their property to control such complaints when less restrictive means exist is not warranted (see https://bit.ly/3D3O0UW).

The Vacation Rental Work Group (VRWG) has misrepresented the number of locals supporting caps by thousands by using a change.org “petition,” which measures the worldwide popularity of an idea and is not a local nor legal petition. During the council’s public comments, equal numbers of callers and letters opposed caps as supported them. We cannot assume the voices of one group are representative of the majority.

Rising real estate prices are a nationwide phenomenon, unrelated to VRs. Googling “rising real estate prices” will offer analyses about why but none point the finger at VRs. The claim that the rise of one causes the rise of the other is a classic case of correlation, not causation.

Those advocating caps have claimed VRs use more water. Once again, the facts prove otherwise. When the EWUA Board announced its former general manager’s VR water-use presentation at a VRWG meeting was skewed and unauthorized, those opposed to VRs scrambled to remake the data fit their claim. When several of us at that meeting approached organizers and asked to speak about inaccuracies, we were flatly denied. Those opposed do not want you to hear the truth. “There is no evidence that vacation rentals are using water in excess or inappropriately,” said Tenar Hall, EWUA Board member and mathematician. “We have gone through the data extensively and have found no evidence that vacation rentals are having any adverse effects on our water system.”

Our community has been misled. It is time to pay attention to the data. I urge the council: do not make policy that would hamper the rights of law-abiding property owners their constitutionally-protected right to use their property to make a modest income. The calls for caps are based on the emotional and uninformed claims of some and not on evidence. Caps are simply not warranted by the facts.