Allowing entire homes in residential areas to serve as makeshift hotels is back in play in a new set of recommendations from city planners seeking to establish rules for legalizing and regulating short-term rentals throughout New Orleans.
The report, issued late Tuesday afternoon, represents a rare attempt by city planners, under instructions from Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration and the City Council, to overrule the City Planning Commission, the independent body that oversees land-use decisions and that sought to quash the controversial practice of renting entire homes to tourists through sites like Airbnb and VRBO.
The Planning Commission will have another chance at amending the recommendations next Tuesday, when it takes up the ordinances recommended in the report. From there, the issue will be sent back to the City Council, which will have the final say in the matter.
The final recommendations from the planning staff mirror a study they produced earlier this year, laying out four categories of short-term rentals that would be legalized and regulated in the city. At present, renting units in private homes to short-term guests is illegal, but the rules are almost never enforced. In February, more than 3,600 properties were listed on Airbnb alone, 48 percent more than last summer.
Under the staff proposal, four types of short-term rentals would be allowed in the city, each of which would have to be licensed: “accessory rentals,” which would allow residents to rent portions of their home or the unoccupied half of a double if they live in the other side; “temporary rentals,” which would allow whole units to be rented for a limited amount of time each year; “commercial rentals,” allowing whole homes in nonresidential areas to be rented year-round; and “principal rentals,” which would allow for the rental of whole homes in residential neighborhoods, though with limitations on how many could be located in a specific area.
The contentious back-and-forth over whether to legalize short-term rentals in New Orleans — and what restrictions they should face — has largely centered in recent months on the issue of whole-home rentals in residential neighborhoods.
Legalizing such rentals represents both the chief fear of critics, who argue they disrupt neighborhoods and displace residents, and the major goal of the lobbying group pushing short-term rentals, which says most of its members fall in that category.
Whole homes — which make up the majority of sites listed for rental in the city and typically bring in higher rates than rooms in occupied homes — also would likely generate most of the revenue the city and other agencies would see through the hotel taxes the Legislature extended to short-term rentals earlier this year.
Both planners and the Planning Commission balked last month at allowing bed-and-breakfasts with similar characteristics to operate in historic residential districts, with staffers arguing their “intensive nature” was not compatible with the neighborhoods’ character. Several commissioners also seemed to equate the two discussions, potentially foreshadowing another attempt to strike whole-home rentals from the new regulations.
In their report on short-term rentals, however, the staff argued that these “proposed regulations, coupled with a robust enforcement system, will mitigate the potential impacts” of whole home rentals.
It’s not clear where the City Council itself stands on the matter, though several council members have expressed skepticism about allowing whole-home rentals.
Critics say expecting “robust” enforcement from the city on such practices is unrealistic, based on past performance.
Landrieu has not weighed in specifically on the issue, though he has referred to reports including whole-home rentals as “balanced,” a sentiment echoed by Landrieu spokesman Hayne Rainey in an emailed statement Tuesday night.
“Mayor Landrieu supports a robust public discussion on the impact of short-term rentals in New Orleans, and we look forward to working with the city’s attached boards and commissions and ... the City Council on a legalization and enforcement policy that is balanced and makes sense,” Rainey said. “This process will take several months and will be the subject of extensive public comment before (the Planning Commission) and the council.”
Follow Jeff Adelson on Twitter, @jadelson.