Owners of short-term rental properties in St. Tammany Parish complained that a proposed ordinance that the Parish Council sent to the Zoning Commission on Thursday will put them out of business and eliminate visitors who spend money in the parish.
Evan Plauche, who represents a group of short-term rental providers called the Alliance for Community Prosperity, said the ordinance isn't a regulatory measure but a ban.
He said his group was not allowed to have a voice in the drafting process and that its attempts at input were ignored. He asked the Parish Council not to send what he considered a seriously flawed ordinance to the Zoning Commission for its review.
"This will affect the parish for the next 50 years," he said, adding that people have been renting vacation homes in St. Tammany since the 1800s.
Councilman Jerry Binder offered a motion to postpone action on the measure, suggesting that some council members might want to study the issue further. But others argued that the process needs to get started, and his motion died. The council then voted without dissent to forward the ordinance to the commission.
The Parish Council has been working on a proposed ordinance since last summer, spurred by complaints from homeowners who say that short-term rentals bring noise and traffic into their neighborhoods and that they never know from day to day who their neighbors will be.
St. Tammany listings are plentiful on sites like Airbnb and HomeAway, particularly along the parish's waterways.
Council Chairman Mike Lorino pointed out that the Zoning Commission will hold additional public hearings and might make changes in the ordinance before sending it back to the council for a final vote. At that point, he said, another public hearing will be held. Council members predicted that a final vote is still months away.
The proposed ordinance defines short-term rentals as hotels and would make them subject to the parish's hotel-motel tax. Existing rentals will be allowed to continue to operate as legal nonconforming uses, but only if they have paid hotel-motel taxes on or before Dec. 31, 2018.
Owners would also have to pay a $1,000 annual licensing fee.
Susie McDaniel, who is a real estate broker, said she has a large home on an 8-acre parcel that she leases as a short-term rental. She asked if she would have to adhere to the same handicap accessibility requirements as a hotel, which would mean installing an elevator, but did not get an answer.
She said the parish would be missing out on good opportunities if it adopts an overly restrictive law, pointing to a family she had rented to who ended up buying their retirement home in Slidell. Renting out homes also helps owners to afford them, she said, citing the high cost of flood insurance as one factor.
While the proposed ordinance was seen as overly restrictive by critics, the council did open the door Thursday to allowing some short-term rentals in residential areas. The initial draft of the ordinance limited the rentals to areas zoned for commercial, institutional and recreational uses.
But Lorino, who had been adamant about keeping them out of neighborhoods, said he was approached by a constituent who rents out a single room. She told him she is always on the premises, preventing noise and rowdy behavior from being a concern.
At his request, the ordinance was amended to say that short-term rentals are not compatible with residentially zoned districts "except in certain, limited situations." While the measure didn't spell that out, another change said the owner will have to have a homestead exemption on the property being leased, meaning that it is the owner's principal residence, and must be present for the entire stay of any guests.
Lorino said that would prevent people from buying houses with the intention only of turning them into short-term rental properties, not living there.
The Covington City Council voted late last year to limit short-term rentals to its historic district, and Mandeville is considering an ordinance that would limit them to the Old Mandeville Business District.