The City Council will soon consider a proposal that would put a "soft cap" on the number of short-term rentals in certain commercial corridors in New Orleans — the first attempt to rein in the controversial rentals since they were legalized more than a year ago.
Councilwoman and Mayor-elect LaToya Cantrell, who tried to get a similar cap enacted when the rental rules were first passed, also announced that she would push for a study to determine whether further restrictions are needed.
The ordinance she introduced Thursday would allow up to two short-term rental units per property in neighborhoods that typically house small businesses. Any rentals beyond that number would need to be reviewed on a case-by-case basis.
That ordinance is expected to come up for a vote at the council's April 5 meeting, before five newly elected members take office.
Meanwhile, a motion directing the City Planning Commission to restudy the issue of rentals is expected to come up for approval at the council’s March 22 meeting.
Cantrell said her proposed ordinance is designed to curb “home to hotel” conversions.
“When multifamily structures get five to six or seven (rental) licenses and then become entirely short-term rental … it puts a significant burden on the neighbors and prevents those units from being used by full-time residents,” she said.
The council voted 4-1 to advance the proposal, with Nadine Ramsey opposed. Ramsey, who represents Algiers and east bank areas in and near the French Quarter, said she made a promise to her constituents not to act on any changes to the short-term rental law unless they were done comprehensively.
“For that reason alone, I will be voting this motion down,” she said.
Jared Brossett and James Gray were absent for the vote, which came near the end of a six-hour meeting.
The legislation the City Council passed last April to regulate the roughly 4,300 short-term rentals active in New Orleans has been highly controversial.
The units — registered on sites such as Airbnb — have flourished in neighborhoods most desired by visitors, and many longtime residents have complained of being displaced or priced out because of them.
On the other hand, some property managers have sought to have the rules loosened so as to increase the number of units that can be rented.
The debate emerged as one of the big issues on the campaign trail last fall, as Cantrell’s mayoral opponent, Desiree Charbonnet, offered her own proposal to curb the properties and Cantrell pledged to review the current law and propose changes, if necessary.
Near the end of the campaign, a zoning fight over the former Zara’s Grocery on Prytania Street, in Cantrell's district, prompted her to give the matter a closer look, leading to the ordinance she proposed Thursday.
The owners of the Zara's property sought a kind of zoning that would have allowed the store to sell packaged liquor but that also would have made short-term rentals on its upper floors available all year, rather than just 90 days, prompting complaints from some neighbors.
Cantrell proposed a compromise zoning change that would require closer scrutiny of the grocery’s rentals but that would let it sell alcohol.
The Planning Commission, however, recommended against a case-by-case look at a property's rentals. It said that under that approach, property owners — not wanting to deal with the hassle of a conditional-use process — would be incentivized to create more rentals in residential neighborhoods, a development the council sought to prevent when it passed the rental regulations in the first place.
The process would also have significantly burdened the commission, which must review all conditional use requests before they go to the council.
So Cantrell proposed another compromise Thursday: allowing up to two rentals per property in small-business corridors such as Magazine, Maple and Oak streets, and requiring that all additional rentals be subject to the conditional-use process.
The council will consider that ordinance April 5. The proposed study, meanwhile, would address a Planning Commission recommendation to look at the matter holistically, as opposed to changing the rules piecemeal.
“My office, along with Council President (Jason) Williams, have been working together to create language of a study that will move forward at the next council meeting,” Cantrell said.
Williams offered his support.
“I want to thank you for being focused on this,” Williams said. “I think we have heard from the public, and it is very clear that (short-term rentals) are having very serious impacts on (long-term) rental costs and rental availability, and on housing costs and housing availability.”
The Planning Commission, once it is officially directed to study the question of whether more curbs are needed, will have six months to do so before that study is presented to the council, long after the new members are in office.