In a legislative committee, the good intentions of safety have collided with the worry about regulation and red tape, but there also is a healthy debate about the impact of short-term rentals over the Internet for full-time innkeepers.
The panel eventually shot down legislation that would have required people who rent their homes to tourists on a short-term basis to certify with the state fire marshal that they comply with simple safety measures. “This has to do with basic safety,” said state Rep. Helena Moreno, D-New Orleans, and sponsor of House Bill 952.
Her city is one where Airbnb and other short-term rentals have blossomed in popularity, despite the criticisms and efforts to block their widespread use by more traditional lodging businesses.
The House Commerce Committee was not appeased, though Moreno amended the measure to make it simple for a host to follow. Basically, they would outfit their rental with fire extinguishers, smoke and carbon monoxide monitors and a map of the exits and would ensure exits were unobstructed. The owners would have signed up on the website of the Louisiana Office of the state fire marshal and paid $25 for a five-year certification.
While the New Orleans market is principally concerned with the issue, it is growing and Moreno’s bill would have applied statewide, to anyone renting their home for 29 days or less. In the city, Moreno said, the Airbnb website, which brokers rental space in private houses and apartments, sent out a news release that it had handled 20,000 reservations for the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival alone.
We see the concerns of both sides of this issue.
“This is the largest expansion of the (state) fire marshal’s power in history,” said Jim Nickel, an influential Baton Rouge lobbyist representing Airbnb. But the fire marshal, Butch Browning, said the inspections would be very limited and he would have little power in many cases, except for the basics of safety.
Ultimately, that did not persuade the Commerce Committee members, but the debate should underline the importance of the marketplace: If customers make sure to ask about safety precautions, the people who rent out spare bedrooms and the like are apt to respond to those concerns.
The marketplace for short-term rentals is expanding. It is disruptive of traditional businesses who play by stricter rules and pay taxes and fees and have more legal responsibility when things go wrong. Technically, it’s illegal in New Orleans, where the City Council has wrestled with the issues raised by the new businesses, for that is what they really are.
While Moreno’s bill was sidetracked, it nevertheless should make it more and more clear to consumers that they ought to ask about these issues before plunking down the credit card on websites.