A new proposal in St. Tammany Parish would ban short-term rentals outside of commercial areas and would charge property owners a hefty licensing fee. It's the first push by parish officials to regulate the popular but controversial home-rental industry.
Officials are planning a public forum Wednesday night to discuss a draft ordinance which in addition to keeping vacation rentals out of residential areas would also charge owners an annual licensing fee of $1,000.
The session will begin at 6:30 p.m. at the Parish Council chamber on Koop Drive in Mandeville.
The proposal comes as public officials throughout the New Orleans metro area are struggling with how to impose rules on short-term rentals, which have surged in popularity over the last several years on websites like Airbnb, VRBO and HomeAway.
The New Orleans City Council is in the process of revising rules that placed restrictions on where rentals can be located and required rental owners to register.
The Jefferson Parish Council has voted to allow short-term rentals only in a handful of high-traffic, mostly commercial corridors — rules that will go into effect in about five months. And Gretna is considering regulating the business, although the council there recently deferred action on an ordinance to gather more public input.
While some suburban areas have moved to ban rentals outright, many towns and parishes are trying to find ways to accommodate the potentially lucrative industry without angering residents who often are incensed when ever-changing parades of renters start appearing near their homes.
St. Tammany has seen a surge of short-term rental properties over the past couple of years, and officials have been grappling with how to regulate an industry that generates complaints about the noise and traffic the visitors bring to otherwise quiet neighborhoods.
The parish has more than 200 listings on Airbnb alone, and Parish Councilwoman Michele Blanchard said she's gone from getting one or two calls a month from unhappy constituents to as many as four per week.
So far, neither the Parish Council nor any municipalities have enacted laws to regulate the rentals, though the Covington City Council is also reviving an effort to put rules in place.
Under the Covington proposal, short-term rentals will be limited to the city's historic district, and the number of rooms and guests allowed in each rental will be capped.
Covington officials had originally considered a measure that would have limited the total number of short-term rentals there to 25, along with a spate of other regulations.
But after two public meetings, a retooled measure eliminates the cap on the total number but spells out restrictions that range from the maximum numbers of bedrooms and guests per rental — four and eight, respectively — to required quiet hours and a no-parties rule.
Covington's ordinance, which will be voted on next month, would set an annual $500 fee for hosts and require $500,000 in liability insurance coverage.
The St. Tammany council's draft ordinance would make short-term rental property subject to the parish's hotel tax. Officials believe those tax revenues may slump as rentals grow in popularity, diverting visitors from regular hotels and motels.
Short-term rentals would be allowed only in commercially zoned areas, plus areas zoned for "traditional neighborhood development," a mixed-use category that includes single-family homes.
"If you are zoned residential, you can't do it," Councilman Steve Stefancik said.
He said the money from the licensing fee will be used for enforcement as budget cuts have cut the number of parish code-enforcement officers from five to two.
"We’ve been worried about enforceability," Blanchard said. "I'd hate to put something out there that we don’t have the manpower to enforce."
If the ordinance is adopted, owners currently offering properties for short-term rental will have six months to get a permit; if they don't meet that deadline, Stefancik said, they'll be shut down.
Still, any new rules aren't expected to take effect until sometime next year.
The ordinance won't appear on the Parish Council agenda until December, Stefancik said. Because it's a change to the zoning code, it will then go before the Zoning Commission before returning to the council for a vote. That probably won't happen until May or June, he said.
A number of St. Tammany municipalities are watching to see what the parish will do and likely will follow its example, according to Stefancik. The council's goal, he said, is to draft a measure that will hold up in court and that can be effectively enforced.
Blanchard said that doesn't mean being anti-development, but it does mean keeping short-term rentals out of areas where homeowners have a reasonable expectation that a commercial concern won't open next door.
Blanchard also will discuss the measure at her District 13 meeting at 7 p.m. Monday on the fifth floor of the Towers Building in Slidell.