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Harris County, Texas Short-Term Rental Regulation: A Guide For Airbnb Hosts

Harris County, Texas

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What are Short-Term Rental (Airbnb, VRBO) Regulations in Harris County, Texas?

Harris County, which includes the city of Houston, is one of the few major metropolitan areas in the United States that does not currently have specific regulations for short-term rentals (STRs) like Airbnb and VRBO. However, as the popularity of STRs has grown in recent years, so have tensions between rental operators and residents. This has led to increased calls for the city and county to implement rules governing these properties.

Starting a Short-Term Rental Business in Harris County

As of 2024, investors looking to start a short-term rental business in unincorporated Harris County do not need to obtain any special permits or licenses. The county does not have zoning laws restricting STRs. However, all rental properties must still comply with applicable building codes, health and safety standards, and the county's regulations for sexually-oriented businesses.

Within the city of Houston, STR operators are required to collect and remit hotel occupancy taxes. Airbnb and VRBO collect these taxes on behalf of hosts in Houston. However, the city does not currently have any other regulations specific to short-term rentals.

This lack of regulation has allowed STRs to proliferate across the Houston area in recent years. In 2023, Houston ranked as the 3rd largest market for short-term rentals in the United States. Investors can own multiple STR properties and operate them through business entities without any special restrictions.

However, the rapid growth has also led to increasing complaints from residents about noise, parties, crime, and other nuisances at STR properties. In March 2023, Houston City Council members met to discuss the issues and potential regulations. Residents spoke about problems ranging from a 24-unit apartment complex operating as a "party hotel" to million dollar homes in neighborhoods being bought up and converted to STRs.

City officials say one challenge in regulating STRs has been legal pushback and lawsuits against STR rules in other Texas cities. However, with complaints mounting, Houston's mayor has now directed the legal department to research best practices and develop potential regulations that could withstand court challenges. Any new rules would make Houston the latest in a string of major cities, from New York to Los Angeles, that have moved to crack down on STRs in recent years.

So while Harris County remains one of the most lightly regulated places for STRs in the country as of 2024, that could change in the years to come as Houston looks to join other cities in setting ground rules for the booming short-term rental industry. Investors and operators will need to stay tuned to see how the regulatory landscape may shift.

Short-Term Rental Licensing Requirements in Harris County

As of 2024, Harris County itself does not have any specific licensing requirements or permits for operating short-term rentals (STRs). The county, which includes the city of Houston, lacks a comprehensive regulatory framework governing Airbnb and VRBO properties.

However, within the city limits of Houston, there are a few key requirements that STR operators need to be aware of:

  • Hotel Occupancy Taxes: STR operators in Houston are required to collect and remit hotel occupancy taxes. As of 2024, Airbnb and VRBO collect and remit these taxes on behalf of their hosts in the city.
  • Building and Safety Codes: While no special permit is needed, all STRs in Houston must comply with applicable building codes, health and safety standards, and regulations for sexually-oriented businesses.
  • Deed Restrictions and HOA Rules: STR operators need to ensure their property's use as a short-term rental does not violate any deed restrictions or homeowners association rules that may prohibit or limit such activity.

There is no specific STR licensing process or office in Harris County or Houston to submit applications or documents to. STR operators are expected to comply with the hotel tax collection and building safety requirements on their own.

Since there is no formal permitting system, there are also no application fees, waiting periods, or official fines for operating without a license. However, the city can respond to complaints and potentially take action against properties violating other ordinances related to noise, parking, etc.

It's important to note that as of March 2023, Houston city officials have expressed increasing interest in potentially developing more robust short-term rental regulations in the future, given the growing concerns and complaints from residents. STR operators in Harris County, especially within Houston, should monitor for any possible regulatory changes in the years ahead.

Required Documents for Harris County Short-Term Rentals

As of 2024, Harris County and the city of Houston do not have a formal licensing process or required document list for operating short-term rentals. However, there are a few key items that STR operators should have to ensure they are in compliance with applicable rules:

  1. Hotel Occupancy Tax Forms: STR operators in Houston need to complete and submit hotel occupancy tax forms to properly remit the required taxes. Airbnb and VRBO collect and remit these taxes on behalf of their hosts, so operators who exclusively use these platforms may not need to submit the forms themselves.
  2. Property Ownership or Lease Agreement: While not formally required to be submitted, STR operators should have proof that they either own the property or have the legal right to rent it out on a short-term basis per their lease agreement. This is important in case any issues or complaints arise.
  3. Insurance Policy: STR operators are strongly encouraged to obtain an insurance policy that specifically covers short-term rental activity. While not a legal requirement, proper insurance can provide critical liability protection. Several insurance companies now offer STR-specific policies.
  4. Deed Restrictions and HOA Rules: If applicable, STR operators should review and keep on hand any deed restrictions or homeowners association rules that govern their property's use to ensure they are in compliance.

Since Houston and Harris County do not have a formal STR licensing process as of 2024, there is no specific office or website to submit these documents to. However, operators should maintain them in their records and be prepared to furnish them if any issues arise with the city, county, or their insurance provider.

As always, it's important for STR operators to stay informed of any potential regulatory changes that may occur in the coming years as Houston and other cities in Texas look to potentially develop more robust short-term rental ordinances.

Harris County Short-Term Rental Taxes

Short-term rental operators in Harris County need to be aware of several taxes that apply to their business. Proper collection and remittance of these taxes is crucial for compliance with local regulations.

Hotel Occupancy Taxes

The primary taxes that apply to short-term rentals in Harris County are hotel occupancy taxes. These include:

Texas State Hotel Occupancy Tax: 6% of the listing price including any cleaning fees for reservations 29 nights and shorter.

Harris County Hotel Occupancy Tax:

  1. 7% for rentals in unincorporated areas of the listing price including cleaning fees, for reservations 29 nights and shorter.
  2. 2% for rentals in incorporated areas of the listing price including cleaning fees, for reservations 29 nights and shorter.

City of Houston Hotel Occupancy Tax: 7% of the listing price including any cleaning fees for reservations 29 nights and shorter, for rentals within Houston city limits.

Harris County Houston Sports Authority Hotel Occupancy Tax: 2% of the listing price including any cleaning fees, for reservations 29 nights and shorter.

In total, short-term rentals in unincorporated Harris County will collect 15% in occupancy taxes (6% state + 7% county + 2% sports authority). Rentals in Houston city limits will collect 22% (6% state + 7% county + 2% sports authority + 7% city).

Platforms like Airbnb and VRBO collect and remit the state hotel occupancy tax on behalf of hosts in Texas. However, hosts are responsible for collecting and remitting the county and city hotel taxes on their own, unless their listing is only rented through Airbnb. Airbnb collects all applicable taxes for its listings.

Income Taxes

In addition to occupancy taxes, short-term rental income is subject to federal income tax and may be subject to state income tax. Hosts will need to report their rental income on their annual tax returns.

Possible Deductions

Short-term rental operators may be able to deduct certain expenses to reduce their taxable income:

  1. Mortgage interest and property taxes, if renting a portion of a home.
  2. Depreciation of the rental property.
  3. Cleaning, maintenance, and repair costs.
  4. Host service fees from rental platforms.
  5. Supplies, linens, and amenities provided to guests.

It's important for hosts to keep detailed records of their rental income and expenses to properly file their taxes. Consulting with a tax professional is recommended to ensure compliance with all applicable tax laws.

Texas State-Wide Short-Term Rental Rules

While most short-term rental regulations in Texas are determined at the city and county level, there are a few key state laws and tax rules that apply to all STR operators in Harris County and across the state:

  1. Texas Hotel Occupancy Tax: The state of Texas imposes a 6% hotel occupancy tax on the rental price (including cleaning fees) for reservations of less than 30 consecutive days. STR platforms like Airbnb and VRBO collect and remit this tax on behalf of their hosts in Texas.
  2. Landmark Texas Supreme Court Case: In 2018, the Texas Supreme Court ruled in favor of STR owners in a key case, Tarr v. Timberwood Park Owners Association. The court decided that STRs are a "residential use" and cannot be prohibited by HOAs as long as the property is being used as a residence, no matter how short the stay. This case set an important precedent limiting the ability of HOAs to restrict STRs across the state.
  3. Proposed State Legislation (SB 451): In 2017, Texas State Senator Kelly Hancock introduced a bill (SB 451) aimed at preventing Texas cities from banning or overly restricting STRs. While the bill did not pass, it underscored a statewide push to protect the rights of STR owners and limit municipal restrictions.
  4. State-Required Liability Insurance: As of 2021, Texas law requires STR operators who rent their property for more than 5 nights per year to maintain at least $1 million in liability insurance coverage. Airbnb and VRBO provide this coverage for free for their hosts.
  5. Mandatory Human Trafficking Prevention Training: Texas law requires all lodging operators, including STRs, to complete a human trafficking prevention training program and post signage with reporting information. Hosts must complete this free, online training by January 1, 2023.

Beyond these state-level requirements, the bulk of STR regulation in Texas happens at the local level. Harris County itself does not currently have any specific STR ordinances, giving cities within the county discretion to set their own policies. Houston, for example, requires STR operators to collect and remit hotel occupancy taxes but does not have permitting or zoning rules as of 2024.

However, as the STR industry has grown, so have calls for the county and its cities to implement more comprehensive regulations. Houston officials are now researching potential rules to address mounting resident complaints about party houses, noise, and other STR-related nuisances. Harris County STR operators should stay tuned for potential regulatory changes in the years ahead at both the state and local level.

Does Harris County Strictly Enforce STR Rules?

Based on discussions among Airbnb hosts on forums like Reddit and Bigger Pockets, the general consensus is that Harris County and the city of Houston have a relatively lax approach to enforcing short-term rental regulations as of 2024. Many hosts report operating STRs in the area with few issues, despite the lack of a formal permitting process.

Houston is considered one of the most Airbnb-friendly major cities in the United States. In 2023, it ranked as the 3rd largest market for short-term rentals in the country. This growth has occurred in a largely unregulated environment, with the city and county governments only recently starting to consider implementing STR-specific ordinances.

On Reddit, several hosts have mentioned operating multiple STR properties in Houston and Harris County without any special permits or licenses. They note that while the city requires STRs to collect hotel occupancy taxes, there are no zoning laws or permit requirements preventing properties from being used as short-term rentals.

This lack of strict enforcement has allowed the STR market to flourish in Harris County. However, it has also led to increasing complaints from residents about party houses, noise, and other nuisances. In response, Houston officials are now looking into developing a regulatory framework to address these issues.

So while Harris County is currently very Airbnb-friendly compared to other major cities, with hosts freely operating STRs, this may change in the coming years. The city of Houston appears to be moving towards stricter enforcement and oversight of short-term rentals.

Hosts in Harris County should stay informed about any potential rule changes and be prepared to comply with new regulations if and when they are implemented. But for now, the area remains a relatively easy place to operate an STR with minimal enforcement of the limited existing rules.

How to Start a Short-Term Rental Business in Harris County

Starting a short-term rental (STR) business in Harris County, Texas can be a lucrative venture. As of 2024, the county does not have specific licensing or permit requirements for STRs, making it relatively easy to get started compared to other major cities. However, there are still some important steps to follow to ensure your business is legal, safe, and successful:

  1. Research local regulations: While Harris County itself does not heavily regulate STRs, it's important to check for any rules within your specific city or neighborhood. For example, Houston requires STRs to collect hotel occupancy taxes. Additionally, review your property's deed restrictions, HOA rules, or lease agreement to confirm that STRs are allowed.
  2. Prepare your property: Ensure your rental property is safe, clean, and well-maintained. Install smoke detectors, carbon monoxide detectors, and fire extinguishers. Provide essential amenities like linens, toiletries, and kitchen supplies. Consider hiring a professional photographer to take high-quality photos of your property for your listings.
  3. Register with tax authorities: Apply for a Texas Taxpayer Number and register with the Texas Comptroller to collect and remit the required 6% state Hotel Occupancy Tax. If your property is located within Houston city limits, you'll also need to collect and remit the 7% city Hotel Occupancy Tax. Platforms like Airbnb and VRBO will collect and remit these taxes on your behalf.
  4. Choose a rental platform: Create listings on popular vacation rental sites like Airbnb and VRBO. Craft an enticing description, upload your best photos, and set competitive rates. Be responsive to inquiries and booking requests. You can list on multiple platforms to maximize exposure.
  5. Obtain insurance: Contact your insurance provider to discuss your STR business and obtain appropriate liability coverage. Many standard homeowners policies do not cover commercial STR activity. Consider additional coverage like a commercial liability policy or vacation rental insurance.
  6. Automate your business: Utilize vacation rental software like Hostaway or Guesty to manage bookings, communicate with guests, and streamline operations across multiple platforms. Set up a system for cleanings between guests, either by hiring a service or doing it yourself.
  7. Market your listing: In addition to the exposure from rental platforms, promote your STR on social media, travel blogs, and local tourism websites. Encourage satisfied guests to leave reviews, which can help attract future bookings. Consider offering special promotions or discounts during slower periods.
  8. Keep accurate records: Maintain detailed documentation of all rental income and expenses for tax purposes. Short-term rental income is taxable, but you can deduct certain expenses like mortgage interest, insurance, utilities, and cleaning fees. Consult with a tax professional to ensure proper reporting.

Starting an STR business in Harris County can be an exciting opportunity. By following these steps, conducting thorough research, and providing exceptional guest experiences, you can build a successful and profitable venture in this rapidly growing industry.

Who to Contact in Harris County about Short-Term Rental Regulations and Zoning?

If you have questions about short-term rental regulations and zoning in Harris County, there are several key contacts and resources available:

Harris County Permits Office: The Permits Office handles building permits and development regulations in unincorporated Harris County. They can provide guidance on any county-level rules that may apply to STRs.

  1. Address: 10555 Northwest Freeway, Suite 120, Houston, TX 77092
  2. Phone: (713) 274-3900
  3. Email: HCPermitsTech@harriscountytx.gov

Houston Planning & Development Department: For properties within Houston city limits, the Planning & Development Department oversees development regulations and zoning. Their staff can answer questions about city ordinances that impact STRs.

  1. Address: 611 Walker, 6th Floor, Houston, TX 77002
  2. Planning Info Phone: (832) 393-6600
  3. Email: pd.sra@houstontx.gov

Houston Administration & Regulatory Affairs Department: This department handles the collection of hotel occupancy taxes for STRs in Houston. They can provide information on registering and remitting these taxes.

  • Phone: (832) 393-8790
  • Email: ara.shtax@houstontx.gov

Airbnb Houston Hosts Facebook Group: This is the official Facebook group for Airbnb hosts in the Houston area to connect, share advice, and discuss local regulations. It's a great place to network with experienced hosts and get input on navigating the local STR landscape.

Link: https://www.facebook.com/groups/houstonairbnbhosts/

Houston Short-Term Rental Alliance: This organization advocates for fair and reasonable STR regulations in Houston. Their website provides updates on the evolving legal situation and resources for hosts.

  • Link: https://hsralliance.org/
  • Email: info@hsralliance.org

Bigger Pockets Houston Forum: BiggerPockets is a real estate investing forum with a section dedicated to the Houston market. Hosts can connect with local investors and find discussions on Houston STR regulations and strategies.

Link: https://www.biggerpockets.com/forums/99-houston

By engaging with these government contacts and community groups, STR operators in Harris County can stay informed about local regulations and connect with fellow hosts for support in this dynamic industry.

What Do Airbnb Hosts in Harris County on Reddit and Bigger Pockets Think about Local Regulations?

Discussions among Airbnb hosts in Harris County on Reddit and Bigger Pockets reveal a mix of experiences and opinions regarding local short-term rental regulations:

Lack of Strict Enforcement: On the Houston subreddit, several hosts mention operating multiple Airbnb properties in the area without needing any special permits or licenses. They note that while the city requires STRs to collect hotel occupancy taxes, there are no zoning laws or permit requirements preventing properties from being used as short-term rentals. This suggests a relatively lax regulatory environment as of 2024.

Growing Resident Complaints: However, hosts also acknowledge the increasing number of complaints from residents about party houses, noise, and other nuisances caused by some Airbnb guests. One host on Reddit started a "Houstonians Against Airbnb" Facebook group that gained 250 members in just 2 months. This points to rising tensions between STR operators and residents.

Concerns about Regulatory Changes: With complaints mounting, some hosts express concerns that Houston officials may implement stricter regulations in the future. One Redditor notes the mayor has directed the legal department to research potential rules that could withstand court challenges, which many other cities have implemented in recent years.

Importance of Being a Good Neighbor: On Bigger Pockets, a Houston host stresses the importance of carefully vetting guests and being proactive in addressing any neighbor concerns that arise. They recommend having strict house rules, noise monitoring systems, and a local contact who can quickly respond to any issues.

Profitability vs. Furnished Costs: Another host on Bigger Pockets shares that their expected annual revenue from an Airbnb is about 150% of a long-term rental, but they need to factor in upfront costs of furnishing the unit. Hosts discuss the importance of understanding the demand, revenue potential, and additional expenses of STRs.

Overall, while Harris County Airbnb hosts currently enjoy a lack of strict enforcement, many are aware of the shifting landscape as resident complaints grow. Proactive community relations and staying attuned to any regulatory changes will be key for hosts to continue operating successfully in the region.

Disclaimer: While we here at BNBCalc strive to keep all of our regulation guides updated and accurate with all the latest local laws, we still do not suggest using them as your sole or primary source for local regulations. We also do not recommend you rely on the third-party sources we link to or reference, and we are not responsible for any of the information on these third-party sites. These guides are for entertainment purposes only and only provide basic information and should not be considered as legal advice.

We highly recommend directly contacting the responsible parties for each and hearing what their officials have to say. Ultimately, it's your responsibility as an investor to ensure you fully comply with the local laws, and it's best to speak with professionals before making an investment decision.

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Reveal your property’s rental profitability

Buy this property and list it on Airbnb.