Houston HOAs struggle with ‘chronic party houses’

Lawyers Gregory S. Cagle, who represents homeowners associations and homeowners associations, and Richard Weaver, who represents landlords, had both heard of the recent case of the couple facing a stiff fine for feeding ducks near from their home in the Bridgeland neighborhood near Cypress. Neither of the two lawyers is involved in this case.

The two said most of the complaints between homeowners and their neighborhood associations that reach their offices are about people who haven’t paid annual dues or maintenance fees or done something to their homes – like painting it a different color – without prior approval. Beyond that, however, one of the hottest topics they deal with is people buying homes to rent out on a short-term basis.

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Millions of people use short-term rentals such as those found on Vrbo.com or Airbnb.com as an alternative to hotels for business trips and family vacations. Some in Houston are even used by sick people who come to town for ongoing care at Texas Medical Center.

The ones that become problems, however, are those that are used as party houses. They’re set up for entertaining and have rooms that can be cleared for dance floors, as well as backyards with pools, party spaces, and tall privacy fences.

Eastwood residents Erin Overhouse Locke and Paulette Kukuk have repeatedly complained about a nearby home that has been rented out to loud parties that line the streets with cars of revelers. After the holidays, the women said they often saw beer bottles and plastic cups littering the lawn and sidewalk.

Airbnb and Vrbo.”/>

Paulette Kukuk, left, and Erin Overhouse Locke in front of the “Welcome to Eastwood” sign in their neighborhood. They live near a house that is used for short-term rentals — often loud parties — on Airbnb and Vrbo.

Elizabeth Conley/staff photographer

The problem at the Eastwood home started before the pandemic shut down, but stopped for a while in the spring of 2020. When COVID restrictions were lifted, parties resumed, they said.

Those who inquire about the house on Vrbo, where it is listed as “Jungle Estate” receive an automated response asking for more information about a potential booking, including whether a renter would need accommodation for “…DJ, track dancing, lights” as well as the number of guests who would be there for the night and not for the night.

Kukuk and Overhouse Locke both say that some tenants are families who check in and out with no problem, but often the experience is different. There’s noise, not to mention car-lined streets blocking fire hydrants and preventing other homeowners from leaving trash cans for routine pick-up.

The two women said the police were called due to the issues and complaints to Airbnb and Vrbo did not change anything.

Citing health reasons related to the coronavirus pandemic, Airbnb invoked a temporary ban on all parties and events in its listings beginning in August 2020, banning overnight bookings by people who did not have a history of positive reviews. The website recently made the rule part of its permanent policy to discourage “chronic house parties,” noting that in 2021, more than 6,600 guests were suspended from Airbnb for violating the party ban.

Cagle, author of the book “Texas Homeowners Association Law” and a partner at the Cagle Pugh law firm, said his firm represents more than 1,000 homeowners associations and he personally represents about 500.

He said the primary role of an HOA is to collect dues and maintain a neighborhood’s common areas, such as landscaping. They also oversee rules for how homeowners take care of their property, approving the type of roof shingles, exterior paint colors, and renovations that might add new square footage to a home.

Kathleen Rowe, 65, feeds ducks in front of her home on Friday July 8, 2022 in Cypress.

Kathleen Rowe, 65, feeds ducks in front of her home on Friday July 8, 2022 in Cypress.

Elizabeth Conley, Houston Chronicle/staff photographer

Covenants and deed restrictions are the rules that dictate how owners care for and use their property. The idea of ​​short-term rentals – especially for one-night parties – is a newer phenomenon, so most neighborhoods have governing documents created before Airbnb or Vrbo existed.

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“HOAs are the family law of real estate, and there’s a lot of drama and emotion involved,” Cagle said. “I am continually amazed at the things people can do that irritate their neighbors. There is no limit to that.”

He noted that many HOAs or civic associations operate with deed restrictions or neighborhood rules from boilerplate documents, and many are decades old. Thus, new issues such as a neighbor feeling their privacy is being invaded by another neighbor’s security cameras, or entire blocks of homes disrupted by a short-term rental home, would not be included in a document. like this one.

Even though some councils are changing their documents to cover short-term rentals, he said it was unclear whether new rules could be applied retroactively to rental properties that already exist.

The Eastwood Civic Association does not have the ability to enforce rules; instead, it forwards complaints to the City of Houston. Kukuk remembers that a few years ago, an owner operated a daycare center in her home. When neighbors complained about traffic for deliveries and pick-ups and delivery trucks running, the issue was escalated to the city and the daycare closed.

Overhouse Locke and Kukuk said the neighborhood’s civic association organizes an annual tour and social gatherings, but has also worked to address issues around frequent train stops at crossings and to represent the neighborhood on the proposal. to send a rapid bus line that way.

Weaver said any HOA changing its rental property rules must be very specific about the timeline, because many properties rent for six months to a year.

Dried corn falls to the ground for ducks to eat Thursday, July 7, 2022 in Cypress.

Dried corn falls to the ground for ducks to eat Thursday, July 7, 2022 in Cypress.

Elizabeth Conley, Houston Chronicle/staff photographer

“I’ve seen people try to develop swimming pools for the purpose of running a business and renting them out on a day-to-day basis,” said Weaver of the Weaver law firm with offices in Houston and San Antonio, referring to Swimply.com, often referred to as Airbnb for swimming pools. . “Many deed restrictions prohibit commercial activity in the neighborhood, which may qualify.”

Some complaints are filed by management companies hired by HOA boards – they often get paid for every letter they send about an act restriction violation.

Regardless of the nature of a neighborhood complaint, Cagle and Weaver said they often escalate due to personality clashes between HOA board members and landlords or when a landlord thinks ‘He’s also been singled out for something others in the neighborhood are also doing.

When issues get to the attorneys involved, Cagle and Weaver advise their clients to examine the issue and the potential cost of resolving it.

In the case of the Bridgeland couple fined $250,000 for feeding ducks, Weaver said sometimes an HOA board will try a heavy-handed approach to get a homeowner to stop doing something.

“Yes, some send scary letters, but that’s a bluff. The HOA will send a letter that has no legal backing and they just hope it scares someone into stopping an activity,” Weaver said. “About half the time they can work things out. It has a lot to do with which HOA community it is – it has to do with whether they are nice people or not.

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