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Shana Griffin shouts against the city council as they voted to approve short-term rentals like Airbnb with regulations in city council chambers and city hall in New Orleans, La. Thursday, Oct. 20, 2016.

A key provision of New Orleans’ short-term rental law that took effect a year ago was designed to limit the number of days that entire homes in residential neighborhoods could be rented to tourists.

But enforcing that 90-day cap has proved to be difficult, complicated by limitations both on the city's enforcement process and on the information it is receiving.

Reports that rental services like Airbnb are required to submit to the city show that more than 470 listings exceeded the 90-day rental cap during the first year the law was in effect, though city officials say that number was likely inflated by problems with the data they’re receiving.

The city is now seeking to bring the first cases of alleged violations before a hearing officer, but it is facing significant hurdles in identifying which properties and hosts are skirting the laws.

Those problems were anticipated by critics who said from the start that the city's short-term rental regulations were too lax and could not be enforced. In part, that’s because the city is reliant on Airbnb and other rental platforms themselves for the data needed to crack down on properties that go over their cap.

HomeAway, the second-largest player in the market, has refused to assist city efforts to identify scofflaws, the city says.

“HomeAway has made it clear they do not wish to assist us on any terms but their own,” Safety and Permits Director Jared Munster said in an emailed statement Tuesday.

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And with Airbnb, the largest platform, there have been delays in tying listings to actual addresses that city officials hope to work out in the near future, Munster said.

The data provided to the city identify properties by strings of letters and numbers that only the two companies have the ability to match with actual addresses. The companies are supposed to provide actual addresses within 30 days after getting an "administrative subpoena" from the city.

That hasn’t exactly worked out, however.

HomeAway explicitly turned down the city's request.

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In an emailed statement, HomeAway Director of Policy Communications Philip Minardi said the company did not comply because its properties, although nearing 90 days, had not yet gone over the limit and because federal law prevents it from providing any information on its hosts to the city unless it obtains a court order.

He said the company offered to send messages to homeowners who it appeared might go beyond the 90-day limit, but city officials would not accept that as adequate.

It’s not clear how those messages would allow the city to identify and cite users who are in violation of the law. It’s also not clear what the city’s next steps could be.

Munster said more subpoenas would be sent to HomeAway in the future, but he did not answer questions about what additional steps could be taken.

Things have been rocky with Airbnb as well, though Munster described interactions with that company more in terms of ironing out problems than the total standoff that’s emerging with HomeAway.

A first round of subpoenas was sent to Airbnb in October, but the city didn’t get a response until January, and the company then refused to provide some of the information the city wanted. However, Munster said the city and Airbnb are in constant communication in an effort to fix the process.

In an emailed statement, Airbnb spokeswoman Laura Rillos also said the company is trying to iron out the issues.

“As is the case with any new system, there have been hiccups we are working diligently to solve. We have made city-requested product changes to the registration system, which will make it possible to respond to future requests from the city in a timely manner, and we'll continue working closely with the city to support their enforcement of the rules,” Rillos said.

In an apparent jab at HomeAway, she also said a workable system "will require every company — not just Airbnb — to play by the rules."

City officials are planning to bring 21 of the cases from the original Airbnb subpoenas to an administrative hearing and are still working to identify 29 other properties. Another round of 182 subpoenas went out in March; they are expected to yield more violations and hearings.

Critics of short-term rentals also cite other concerns, chief among them that the use of anonymous data allows hosts to rack up far more than 90 days of rentals by using multiple platforms.

“An individual with a temporary license can list it for 90 days on Airbnb and then shift the listing to HomeAway for another 90 days, thus breaking the law by doubling the number of nights the unit is listed as a (short-term rental) without the city’s knowledge,” according to a report issued last week by the Jane Place Neighborhood Sustainability Initiative.


Follow Jeff Adelson on Twitter, @jadelson.​