Lambasting both sides of the issue for taking what she considers unreasonable positions on rules to govern the short-term rentals proliferating in New Orleans neighborhoods, City Councilwoman Stacy Head kicked the issue over to the City Planning Commission on Wednesday.
Taking to task both those who want the city to grant an unfettered right for residents to use homes as hotel rooms and those she described as “affluent and influential enough” to file private lawsuits against nearby rentals, Head said that if the latest attempt to craft regulations fails, she’s done with the yearlong talks that so far have yielded no results.
“I will not be a party to sucking the efforts of city government and my staff away from more important tasks because of irrational behavior, vitriol and outright lies,” she said.
Head has been the lead council member dealing with the short-term rental issue, which is exemplified by sites such as AirBnB and VRBO that allow residents to list their properties online for rental to visitors.
With little progress from the discussions so far, Head on Wednesday put a motion before the council’s Community Development Committee that instructs the Planning Commission to take a wide-ranging and open-ended look at the issue and recommend rules, regulations and best practices the city should follow going forward.
The committee endorsed the motion 4-0. It now goes to the full council for its approval.
Short-term rentals have become a central flashpoint in arguments over affordable housing in light of the city’s soaring housing costs. They also have taken a central place in the related, but more amorphous, discussion of whether a tourist-focused economy is skewing the city’s development and priorities away from the needs of average residents.
A recent analysis by InsideAirBnB.com, which looks at the site with a critical eye, found there were more than 1,700 properties listed in the city that appeared to be used solely for short-term rentals, essentially taking them out of the general housing supply.
Some critics argue that the city should simply stick with a ban on short-term rentals — a prohibition that is almost never enforced. But Head said the city doesn’t have the “millions” it would take to track down violators and gather enough evidence to make charges stick in court.
Comparing the issue with Prohibition, she said even wide-ranging enforcement is unlikely to eliminate such rentals.
At the same time, she lambasted some people who want no regulation at all, citing the problems she’s had in her neighborhood with a property owner who rented his house out for bachelor parties.
“The only people I think would benefit from no regulations are the uber-sophisticated who have the ability to file suit against behavior they don’t like and those who don’t want a regulatory scheme because they don’t want to follow the law and pay their fair share,” Head said.
“We should treat the French Quarter differently than any other area of the city with regard to hotel-type, transient rental properties,” Head said. “I consistently believe that the French Quarter should be treated like the fragile little bird it is.”
How much of Head’s thinking will be included in the Planning Commission’s recommendations is unclear. The proposed instructions telling it to look into the issue give that body wide latitude.
The council is expected to agree to task the Planning Commission with conducting a study, but that could be just the beginning of a lengthy process. The commission could take up to four months studying the issue before issuing recommendations that could be turned into an ordinance. That measure would then likely go back to the commission before coming up for a council vote.
The Planning Commission will likely focus on issues such as where short-term rentals should be allowed, how much of a property can be used for a short-term rental and whether they should be allowed in homes not occupied by the owner. At the same time, the council will have to consider the larger regulatory framework, including fees and fines.
Follow Jeff Adelson on Twitter, @jadelson.