New Orleans City Councilwoman Kristin Gisleson Palmer’s push to tighten the city's rules on short-term rentals hit its first speed bump this week, as questions from other council members about the plan’s details delayed a preliminary vote to kick off the approval process.
The council had been expected to take that first vote Thursday, but Palmer sent out a news release late Monday announcing that it has been postponed until sometime in January.
The decision to scuttle a vote before the holiday season comes less than a week after Palmer unveiled a sweeping plan aimed at reversing the spread of short-term rentals primarily in New Orleans’ residential neighborhoods.
But in that time, sharp criticism of the plan has come from rental platforms such as Airbnb and HomeAway. And other council members have quietly signaled their desire to hash out potential changes before committing to a vote.
Palmer’s chief of staff, Andrew Sullivan, said Tuesday that the delay will allow more time for the other members to study the proposal.
“We are really happy that people are engaging on this topic and taking a deep dive, and we want to give them time to do that,” Sullivan said.
The changes sought by Palmer would be the first major overhaul of short-term rental rules in New Orleans since the previous City Council legalized the practice in the city two years ago.
Critics of the current regulations say they are too loose, allowing an almost unchecked proliferation of rentals in some neighborhoods, cutting into the supply of housing, driving up rents and forcing out many long-term residents.
Among the items likely to be discussed by council members before Palmer’s proposal comes up for a vote are the two elements most directly linked to those concerns.
Palmer has proposed allowing short-term rentals in residential neighborhoods only on properties that have a homestead exemption, meaning that the owner lives on the property, even if it has more than one unit.
That change would significantly cut the number of legal rentals in neighborhoods outside of the Central Business District. In areas such as Treme, Marigny and parts of Uptown, numerous homes and apartment complexes have been completely converted to short-term rentals.
But some council members are pushing for rules that would entitle someone with a homestead exemption in New Orleans to also rent out a specified number of investment properties aside from their main residence. Palmer has argued that would be unworkable from an enforcement standpoint and could create legal problems for the city.
Additionally, Palmer’s proposal would require large-scale developments in commercial areas, such as condo buildings in the CBD, to match every short-term rental with a unit of affordable housing. That plan would also cap the proportion of a building that could be used to house tourists at 30 percent.
Some council offices could raise concerns about that part of the proposal, particularly in light of plans by Sonder — a short-term rental company — to put rental units on vacant upper floors or in blighted properties on Canal Street. Both Councilman Jason Williams and Mayor LaToya Cantrell have supported that plan, and the stricter rules proposed by Palmer could potentially derail those projects.
The short-term rental platforms like Airbnb also have complained that Palmer was moving too quickly with her plan without getting enough community input, particularly from rental property owners and the platforms they work with.
Palmer last week dismissed those claims, noting that changes could be made during the multiple public hearings and votes by both the council and the City Planning Commission that will be needed to put the rules into law.
An Airbnb spokeswoman said Tuesday that the company was happy with the delay.
“We remain committed to working with the city on fair, reasonable regulations that protect the integrity of neighborhoods while ensuring New Orleanians can continue operating their short-term rentals," the Airbnb statement said.
Palmer said in her news release Monday that passing “robust legislation to preserve our neighborhoods” requires “open conversations and strong civil engagement.”
"In light of the holiday season when everyone is focused on family, I would like to defer the vote on this issue,” she said. “We will continue to encourage feedback and public input during this time, and in the new year, will move forward with legislation that puts the neighborhoods first."