A request to demolish two vacant homes in the St. Roch neighborhood turned into complaints about abuses of the city's short-term rental ordinance at a New Orleans City Council meeting Thursday.
Councilwoman Stacy Head, who supported the short-term rental ordinance when it passed last year, questioned whether the new rules are working or whether the city is allowing property owners to break them.
“I feel like I’ve been duped by this whole short-term rental bull,” Head said.
The dust-up started over requests to demolish two blighted buildings in the 2600 block of Marais Street, something Head asserted was being done not because the buildings could not be rehabbed but in order to turn the properties into units more suitable for short-term rentals.
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“This guy is going to destroy yet another historic property, yet another property that could be rehabbed,” Head said, arguing the damage to the property was not bad enough to justify demolition.
The owner, Stephen Agans, was not at the meeting and did not respond to a call seeking comment Friday. A representative of the architect working on the two properties said he didn’t know what the owner intends to do with them.
Head said the request to knock down the properties drew her ire because of another property Agans owns and lists as a short-term rental. Agans has a homestead exemption on that property, at 1227 Annette St., allowing him to rent out half of the double full time.
But, citing an Airbnb listing saying the other half of the property is unoccupied, Head accused Agans of cheating on both his homestead exemption and the short-term rental rules, which would limit him to renting the property for only 90 days a year if he doesn't live in the building.
“How are we continuing to allow short-term rentals to obliterate our neighborhoods because they aren’t following the rules we set up in the first place?” Head asked.
Agans also has another short-term rental license for a property at 1824 Burgundy St.
Councilwoman Nadine Ramsey, whose district includes the Marais Street property, said the issue was whether a blighted property could be knocked down so a new home could be built, not short-term rental issues.
“I know there’s a vacant house that no one’s stepped up (to fix) in 12 years,” she said.
The council typically defers to the district council member when deciding on demolition requests. Both demolitions passed 4-2, with Head and Councilwoman Susan Guidry voting against them. Councilman Jason Williams was absent.
Head had once proposed a plan to allow blighted buildings to be converted into short-term rentals for 18 months to speed their redevelopment. She said Friday that she opposed Agans’ demolition request largely because of the problem with the homestead exemption on his other property.
Head blasted the decision to “allow them to demolish otherwise intact housing stock to do more short-term rentals” while decrying her own “naivete in believing we could enforce the rules and would enforce the rules.”