The City Planning Commission on Tuesday night endorsed a plan that would limit short-term rentals in residential areas to owner-occupied properties, sending the proposal to the City Council for a final decision.
Commissioners voted 5-2 in favor of a series of recommendations made by their staff to toughen the city’s rules on short-term rentals, which were legalized under relatively permissive regulations in 2017.
The recommendations largely follow the contours of proposals put forward by members of the City Council, though in some cases they are more restrictive.
By a unanimous vote, the commission decided to leave a ban on short-term rentals in most of the French Quarter in place but not extend it to the Garden District.
The French Quarter ban, which does not include some properties on Bourbon Street, is included in the current regulations. The Garden District has asked for a similar exemption.
The planning staff had argued that no neighborhoods should be singled out for special treatment.
The current rules have been in limbo since new council members, many of whom pledged while campaigning to rein in short-term rentals, took office 10 months ago.
The new council quickly instructed the Planning Commission to come up with new, more restrictive rules and barred the city from issuing or renewing most licenses for renting out entire homes while the debate was ongoing.
The proposals put forward by the planning staff went further than a plan pushed by the City Council for restricting short-term rentals through sites like Airbnb and HomeAway .
The council called for limiting short-term rentals to owner-occupied properties but would have allowed renting out up to three units on properties with multiple living units. The planning staff and the commission favored allowing only one rental unit per property.
The plan forwarded by the council would also place some additional limits on properties in residential areas that are zoned for mixed-use, multi-family or commercial uses, treating them the same as traditional bed-and-breakfasts and making them subject to a restriction that limits them to one per side of a block.
Under the commission's recommendations, large-scale short-term rental operations would be allowed in commercial districts such as the Central Business District, the neighborhood that currently has the highest number of licenses. But operators would be limited to using no more than a quarter of their building for that purpose and might be required to provide some affordable housing units.
Neighborhood groups and affordable housing advocates have advocated such restrictions to stop the spread of short-term rentals into neighborhoods such as Treme and Marigny, where they have displaced many long-term residents.
Breonne DeDecker, with the Jane Place Neighborhood Sustainability Initiative, told the commission that her group has found at least 100 renters who have been evicted to make way for short-term rentals.
Nathan Bluford, who said he’s in the process of being evicted, said his neighborhood near Dooky Chase's Restaurant and Willie Mae’s Scotch House has been taken over by short-term rentals, which he said forced out residents to make life more convenient for visitors.
Tying short-term rental licenses to programs to provide affordable housing is “the surest way to make sure that visitors make a lasting contribution to the culture that calls them here,” said Nathan Lott, with the Preservation Resource Center.
Short-term rental owners, however, argued that they were not the cause of the affordable housing crisis in New Orleans, and some said they used their short-term rentals to help offset the income they lost from long-term tenants renting at below market rates.
“We are not the reason for all of the housing issues, and I wish we wouldn’t get bundled up by all their problems. I don’t know why they’re being caused, or their solution,” Mary Margaret Keene said.
Owners also called for the Planning Commission to "grandfather in" whole-home rentals that were licensed under the city's previous rules. Preventing owners who have or previously had a license to rent their property from continuing to operate their businesses amounted to pulling the rug out from them, they said.
“We’ve been working on this for so long, and I’ve been following the rules and I’ve got my license and I want to keep it,” Conrad Shelby said. “We want regulations; we want to be taxed.”