New Orleans short-term rentals up in the air as City Planning Commission agrees to delay vote on issue _lowres

 

The debate over legalizing and regulating the thousands of homes, condos and apartments available for short-term rental in New Orleans is entering the home stretch, but it could still be some time before the first votes are cast.

While the City Planning Commission is scheduled to take up the controversial issue on Tuesday, it will not vote on what recommendations to send to the City Council, according to a statement Monday from Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration.

That leaves the timeline and the process moving forward up in the air. Many groups opposed to short-term rentals in the city had planned to have a large presence at Tuesday’s meeting.

The administration said it had asked the City Planning Commission — supposedly an independent board — to delay its decision and the commission agreed to defer its vote to a future meeting.

Administration officials did not give a date for that vote — which would send the issue on to the City Council for a final decision — or provide a reason for the delay.

The debate over short-term rentals has been raging in New Orleans for years as the number of residential units being rented out to tourists has grown.

There are now more than 4,300 units available for short-term rental in the city listed on Airbnb, according to InsideAirbnb.com, which tracks listings on the site. That’s more than 65 percent more listings than a year ago.

About 3,120, or more than 72 percent, of those listings feature whole homes or apartments for rent, a practice that has become the center of the debate in New Orleans.

Renting out homes or rooms for less than 30 days is technically illegal in New Orleans at present, but those laws are almost never enforced. Complaints about the practice — which critics say disrupts neighborhoods, displaces residents and reduces the amount of housing in the city — led to several failed efforts at regulation before the City Council kicked the issue to planners early this year.

In their report, the planning staff recommended legalizing several types of rentals: the rental of individual rooms or half-doubles in inhabited buildings; rental of whole homes for a total of less than 30 days a year; rental of whole houses or other units in mainly commercial areas; and rental of whole homes in residential neighborhoods. In the last case, the whole-home rentals would face restrictions on how many would be permitted per block. All of the rental units in all categories would have to apply for permits and begin paying hotel taxes.

The City Planning Commission voted to drop the last proposed category, the year-round availability of whole homes or apartments in residential areas — which are the most popular category on Airbnb and which proponents argue are needed to fund enforcement efforts and other city priorities — from the plan before sending it on to the City Council.

But at the Landrieu administration’s request, the council asked the planning staff once more to include those whole-home rentals when they drafted proposed ordinances legalizing short-term rentals.

Those ordinances now must go through the Planning Commission, which has indicated it still takes a dim view of whole-home rentals, and be approved by the City Council, where some members have been skeptical of short-term rentals.

Follow Jeff Adelson on Twitter, @jadelson.