Group urging more affordable housing in New Orleans comes out against some short-term rentals like Airbnb _lowres (copy)

Advocate staff photo by MATTHEW HINTON--A sign on Burgundy Street in the French Quarter advertises an apartment for rent in New Orleans, La. Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2016. 

New Orleans will begin enforcing its new regulations on short-term rentals Monday, though it may be months before the first cases are brought against those violating an ordinance passed last year.

The city has received about 3,000 applications for short-term rentals since it began processing them in March. But with estimates pegging the total number of properties being rented out to tourists at between 4,000 and 6,000, there may be many more still unaccounted for.

“This gives us the base-level information we need to start doing base-level enforcement,” Deputy Mayor Ryan Berni said.

By Sunday, about 1,210 licenses had been issued, and about 384 more had been approved and just needed payment before they are issued. About 290 applications had been rejected, nearly all for failing to follow up on questions raised by city officials, and almost 100 were either withdrawn or represented duplicate applications. 

The aim of the enforcement process will be to track down those who still haven’t registered their rental properties or who are otherwise flouting the rules put in place last year. The process will receive some assistance from Airbnb — the largest player in the short-term rental market — and will involve nine city enforcement officers tracking down violations and complaints.

Although the city has not gotten complete compliance with the new law, Berni said the regulatory structure that has been put in place — which includes forms on Airbnb’s website allowing those renting out units through that site to begin the registration process — has led to a higher rate of registration than in other municipalities, where typically 25 percent or less of those renting out their homes comply with the laws.

“We’re better than any other city, period,” Berni said. “And it’s going to continue to improve.”

The roll-out of the new regulations has been in the works since the City Council voted 6-1 last year to legalize short-term rentals. The rules technically went into effect April 1, though the city announced early in the process that it would not actually begin enforcing them until May 15.

The city already has a list of 410 properties that may be out of compliance with the regulations, based on complaints from neighbors going back to 2012 as well as more recent research by city employees. Properties on that list when the regulations kicked in received letters informing them they needed to register with the city.

Those believed to be operating illegally will get a letter informing them they have 30 days to come into compliance.

The city does not plan to take action against properties that are in the process of getting a license as long as they seem to be moving toward complying with the law, Director of Safety and Permits Jared Munster said.

Before the new regulations went into effect, it was illegal to rent out a property for less than 30 days anywhere in the city. But those rules were almost never successfully enforced. The effort was hampered by difficulty proving that a unit was being actively used as a short-term rental, Munster said.

The new rules should make things easier for regulators, since violations now include simply listing a property for rent that is not licensed, Munster said. The city will also have the ability to subpoena records from Airbnb and other platforms if it believes there are violations.

Violators can be fined. In extreme cases where a property is not brought into compliance, the water can be shut off.

Three types of short-term rentals are now legal in the city. Temporary licenses allow an entire home to rented for up to 90 days a year. Accessory licenses allow a part of a home or half of an owner-occupied double to be rented year-round. Commercial licenses allow an entire unit to be rented year-round as long as it is not in a residentially zoned area.

About 570 of the applications issued so far have been for temporary rentals. Another 440 have been for accessory rentals, and about 205 commercial licenses have been issued.

The Marigny neighborhood has seen the most applications, with nearly 240 owners or others seeking to rent out their property. That amounts to about 10 percent of the housing units in that area as of the 2010 Census, the last reliable count of housing units at a neighborhood level.

Second on the list is the Central Business District, where 182 applications amount to about 10.2 percent of the total housing units available in 2010.

Short-term rentals are banned in the French Quarter, except for some areas on Bourbon Street and the area between Canal Street and Iberville Street that is not considered part of the Vieux Carre for zoning purposes. As a result, even though the Quarter has been an obvious hot spot for short-term rentals, and many listings for properties there remain active on Airbnb, only about two dozen applications were filed for properties there, and only a handful that meet the new requirements were approved.

City regulators have said the Quarter will likely be one of the first targets for enforcement because most properties there cannot legally be rented on a short-term basis.

The city has received about $259,000 in license fees so far.

It’s not clear how much the short-term rentals have paid so far in now-required hotel taxes or in a $1 per night fee that will go toward affordable housing programs. Requests by The New Orleans Advocate for that data have not yet been fulfilled.

Berni noted that the requirements imposed on Airbnb in New Orleans are similar to a recent settlement between the company and its hometown, San Francisco, which tried to implement stringent requirements that would have held the company liable for violations by its users.

While the settlement got rid of those penalties, San Francisco’s regulations are stricter than those in New Orleans. They include a requirement that anyone renting out an entire home or apartment must live there at least nine months of the year, plus a ban on individuals renting out more than one unit.

City officials in San Francisco estimate there are about 8,000 short-term rentals listed on Airbnb in that city, and only about a quarter of those have registered. The total number of rentals amounts to about 2 percent of the city’s total housing stock, about the same rate as low-end estimates for New Orleans.

New Orleans officials have not yet reached an agreement with HomeAway, the other major player in the short-term rental market, though Berni said discussions are ongoing.


Follow Jeff Adelson on Twitter, @jadelson.​