Thursday, December 1, 2016

New Orleans short-term rental laws get final vote

Posted By on Thu, Dec 1, 2016 at 4:30 PM

click to enlarge coverstory.jpg

Following several years of debate, New Orleans officials passed a series of ordinances Dec. 1 to legalize, and enforce, short-term rentals. With input from Mayor Mitch Landrieu's administration, Airbnb and the City Planning Commission, the New Orleans City Council passed several ordinances that amend the city's governing zoning code to include rules for short-term rentals on websites like Airbnb and HomeAway in New Orleans.

The Landrieu administration and several councilmembers boasted that the rules are among the strongest in the U.S. for an industry that is rapidly growing — and has proliferated illegally throughout New Orleans without any regulation over the last several years. The new regulations allow short-term rentals of entire homes (not occupied by their owners) for up to 90 days a year — a controversial plan and one of the biggest points of debate among the public and the City Council and Landrieu administration, as residents and housing advocacy groups fear landlords using properties exclusively as a "business" taken off the long-term rental market. The new rules also ban all short-term rentals in the French Quarter.

The Council ultimately voted 5-2 in supporting the changes, with councilmembers Jared Brossett and Susan Guidry raising the only "no" votes. Brossett offered an amendment to limit the 90-day rule to 60 days and to require homestead exemption for those types of rentals — but, despite pleas from residents throughout the last year of debate, the amendment failed to get enough votes. Without those protections, Brossett said, he would not support the ordinance. Before her "no" vote, Guidry said zoning laws are a promise to residents that they live in residential neighborhoods, and that "it's the city's responsibility to protect that investment and keep that promise."

Council President Jason Williams — who amended the ordinance to include fees up to $150 for short-term renters who don't live in the home they're renting — said he's open to strengthening the laws as they are put in place, with Councilmember James Gray adding that the new rules "are the best we can do under the circumstance" against rapid proliferation and no regulation or enforcement. But a "no" vote, Williams said, is essentially the same as allowing that proliferation. "Right now it’s proliferating and we have zero control," he said.
click to enlarge New Orleans City Councilmembers' caricatures on the steps of City Hall during a protest against whole-home rentals in September.
  • New Orleans City Councilmembers' caricatures on the steps of City Hall during a protest against whole-home rentals in September.

Echoing debates over the issue of the last several months, neighborhood and hotel groups, residents and housing advocates spoke against whole-home rentals and warned of a coming and continued expulsion of long-term renters throughout the city as profitable short-term rentals pop up. Short-term renters, meanwhile, supported the industry that they say contributes to their income and is often more profitable and easier than renting to residents. In a statement, Airbnb spokesperson Laura Spanjian celebrated today's vote as a win, calling it "great news for the many families across New Orleans who rely on home sharing to make ends meet." Housing groups have urged the City Council to limit whole-home rentals to only 45 days a year. Any more "would provide the financial incentive to operate many homes as STRs year-round," according to the Greater New Orleans Housing Alliance.

The city will staff an enforcement wing early next year, funded by nearly $1 million in anticipated revenue from permits and fees, and it will begin collecting taxes on short-term rentals Jan. 1. The rules will kick in April 1, just before the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.

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