short term renters (copy)

The New Orleans City Council is set to vote Thursday, Aug. 8 on the final portion of revised — and much tougher — controls on short-term rental (STR) properties in the city, which have proliferated in nearly every neighborhood since the previous council voted to enact a licensing framework in 2016. Every member of the current council campaigned on a promise to tighten the city’s STR regulations. Now it’s time to deliver.

The council changed the STR licensing classifications in May based on recommendations by the City Planning Commission — but had to wait 90 days pending adoption of new fees and enforcement regulations. Instead of three broad categories of STRs, the council proposes only two — residential and commercial.

Under the proposed new rules, whole-home rentals would be illegal, and STR operators in residential neighborhoods would have to have homestead exemptions to prove they live on the premises. The goal is to stop out-of-town companies from buying up properties en masse, driving up prices and pushing out longtime residents. An added benefit: making sure owners are on site to prevent late-night noise, litter and other problems.

Not surprisingly, STR operators object, saying this amounts to an after-the-fact changing of rules agreed to in 2016. It is a change, yes; but it’s one that residents want — and council members in 2016 warned the industry that future councils would revisit the regulations after a year or so. That has happened, and the proposed new rules reflect widespread dissatisfaction with the initial regulatory scheme.

For example, a March memo from city zoning officials blasted STR companies for a lack of cooperation with City Hall, accusing them of “deliberate obfuscation, refusal to provide required data and a total failure of cooperation with any enforcement mechanisms.” Airbnb, for one, had stopped listing the city-issued license numbers of STRs on the company’s website, forcing STR operators to do it on their own or be out of compliance with city regulations.

Moreover, many residents have complained that the city’s Department of Safety and Permits (DSP) has been sluggish when it comes to investigating alleged violations. The nonprofit newsroom The Lens profiled one woman who couldn’t get action from the DSP for months until she actually rented one of the four STRs on her block.

Councilwoman Kristen Gisleson Palmer, whose district includes the STR-heavy neighborhoods of Faubourg Marigny and Bywater, has said the city’s STR office is understaffed. That, too, is frustrating, because $2 million (funded by local STR taxes) are specifically set aside for enforcement. At a meeting last week, Gilbert Montano, Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s chief administrative officer, told the council’s Government Affairs Committee that City Hall wanted to wait to see what the new STR laws look like before fully staffing the office. That’s nonsense. The money is dedicated to enforcement, and there’s plenty to enforce right now.

We’re confident that most if not all council members agree in principle with the overall direction of the proposed new STR regulations. We hope they’ll agree on specifics at their Aug. 8 meeting so that everyone can move forward with confidence that the new rules will be fair, effective and uniformly enforced.

This is a commentary from Gambit, produced independently from reporters at the paper.