New B&B rules: Do you know your rights?
I am a former B&B owner and resident who is finding it increasingly difficult to live a peaceful life in what used to be a quaint, lovely and unique town.
I live in a cut limestone house built by the Langerhans family in 1901, upon an acre and a half of what used to be an enormous pecan orchard owned by one of the founding German families.
We treasure it not only for its history, but for what we consider our privilege to carry on the Langerhans legacy. My husband and I have gone to great expense to remodel our home, refusing to make any changes unless they comported with strict historical guidelines that we, not the city, imposed.
Sadly, our home is on a cut-through street for drunken bridesmaids and tourists who descend upon our town and surround us 24/7 with a different kind of tourist.
During most of our years here, I ran a B&B across the street with absolutely no problem and quiet, respectful guests. This is no longer the case. We are frequently awakened in the middle of the night by rowdy parties, obscenities hurled over our fences, and drunks who roam screaming up and down Main Street and my front yard, ramming their vehicles into my fence, and blocking the streets of my neighborhood.
There are hundreds of us who live here permanently experiencing the same ruination of our lovely town, residents who want to peacefully co-exist with B&B owners, but finding it impossible to do so given the current class of tourists and ever-expanding bridal business Fredericksburg now seems to attract.
New short-term rental (STR) regulations, effective April 1, have been passed by the city council and affect us all. I laud the city for attempting to gain control of and implementing measures to provide relief from the increasing problems of nuisance, noise and the drunken and rowdy behavior.
Residents feel, understandably, that their neighborhoods are disappearing. It seems every other house is now a B&B.
The city has confirmed there are 670 B&Bs currently operating in Fredericksburg. City officials are clear that they actually have no idea if that number is accurate, saying they do not know if the number is closer to 800 or even higher. The city has hired a software company that compiles a database of all operating B&Bs, with access to their bookings, tax records, permit status and HOT payments. The software company has also been tasked with identifying establishments that are being run illegally without permits of any kind. We have been assured the city will do its best to identify, require permitting, insist upon inspections, and enforce owner responsibility under the new regulations.
I want to emphasize that we all need to respect the rights of permanent residents, but also honor the rights of those who own B&Bs and recognize the income they generate for the city. Discord and animus neighbor-to-neighbor does nothing to move us forward to a place of reconciliation and accord. It simply pits us against one another.
Most B&B owners do their best to control the noise and invasion of our privacy and to enforce the city’s ordinances. As of April 1, we now have specific regulations that not only curb these activities, but give residents recourse when these nuisances occur.
I would like to hit the highlights:
1. The regulations state part of their mission is to “minimize negative ancillary impact on surrounding properties.”
2. All B&B owners are required to designate a “local contact person,” who is on-call 24 hours a day to respond to concerns related to STR’s and who must respond within 60 minutes of any complaint.
3. As residents are not privy to the identification of the “local contact person,” they are encouraged to report violations to David Millegan, city code enforcement officer and, if he is unavailable and a violation is in progress, to call the police, who will investigate and make a report. All complaints go on the record of the particular B&B and will form the basis for the imposition of warnings, fines and, in extreme cases, revocation of permits.
4. The law demands that an annual permit be issued to each B&B owner with certain requirements, without which they are not legally able to operate.
5. Every B&B owner must permit an inspection of their premises to ensure they are in compliance with the new regulations.
6. All weddings, parties, or other gatherings are prohibited at a short term rental, except those located in the commercial zoning district. This means no party can take place unless it is in a business zone or on Main Street.
7. Maximum occupancy limits of any B&B is limited to the city fire code: 1 guest per 200 square feet.
8. B&B owners are bound by the noise and sound level regulation ordinance.
9. Proof that an owner has violated any of these provisions shall create a “rebuttable presumption” that the “Owner … committed the violation.” That means when residents provide proof of violations (e.g. photos, video recordings, reports to the police, or other evidence), it is then up to the owner to rebut that evidence, rather than the burden of proof being placed upon the complainant.
10. The city has the right to suspend or revoke an owner’s permit to do business in such cases, with the owner having a right of appeal.
11. “Any violation of this Article is a Class C misdemeanor,” meaning that after repeated warnings, fines and a refusal by an owner to comply, the city is within its rights to bring a criminal action.
12. David Millegan has an enormous task before him and I have found him to be responsive and sympathetic to both residents and B&B owners.
I appreciate the city’s efforts to help the entire community – both residents and B&B owners – so that we might all live together in peace in this wonderful place.
See new city STR regulations online at www.fbgtx.org/845/Short-Term-Rentals
Code Enforcement Officer