City Council sends issue of short-term rentals back to Planning Commission _lowres

Advocate file photo: A sign on Burgundy street in the French Quarter advertises an apartment for rent in New Orleans. Many long term residents in the French Quarter are worried the neighborhood will soon be only rentals.

The issue of authorizing short-term rentals in New Orleans is headed back to the City Planning Commission, with the question of whether owners should be allowed to turn entire homes into small hotels remaining the major point of conflict.

The City Council voted 6-0 Thursday, with Councilwoman Nadine Ramsey absent, to ask the Planning Commission to begin drafting an ordinance codifying new rules on the practice, made popular through sites like Airbnb, and to hold more hearings to get input from the public.

The vote, on a motion by Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s administration, would have been a minor procedural move but for one issue: the inclusion of a line instructing the Planning Commission to use a study put together by its staff, rather than the amended version the commission members approved and sent to the council earlier this year, as it works on the regulations.

The two versions differ on the issue of whole-home rentals. The staff study recommended they be allowed, though with restrictions on how many could exist on a single block, but the Planning Commission voted to keep that practice illegal.

Speakers opposed to the proliferation of short-term rentals urged the council to take that line out of the motion sending the issue back to the Planning Commission. Leaving it in, they argued, amounted to pressuring the commission to come up with an ordinance that allows the renting of entire homes or apartments, not simply extra rooms — reversing its previous position.

Shelley Landrieu, the mayor’s sister, who was speaking for the Garden District Association, urged the council to hold a full debate on the issue of whole-house rentals before asking the Planning Commission to draft the new rules.

But council members said they were simply taking a procedural step that should not be interpreted as endorsing either side of the whole-house issue.

“That’s absolutely, positively not true. I know my heart. I know my mind. I talked to my colleagues,” council President Jason Williams said after a resident said the language in the motion amounted to taking a stance on the issue.

Williams and other council members said they would continue to listen to both sides of the issue and that the Planning Commission, which will hold another public hearing on the matter, would be free to make its own decision.

The motion, however, does suggest the Mayor’s Office wants to see whole-home rentals included in the final version of the rules. Those properties make up the majority of the thousands of short-term rentals now available throughout the city despite a law prohibiting all such rentals. Authorizing them and making them pay taxes would potentially be a significant source of revenue for the city.

Several residents who spoke at Thursday’s meeting told of neighbors who had been kicked out of their rental homes by owners to make way for short-term tourists.

Despite voting for the motion, Councilwoman Susan Guidry on Thursday reiterated her opposition to whole-house rentals in all residential neighborhoods and to any kind of short-term rentals in the French Quarter.

Councilwoman Stacy Head said the proliferation of short-term rentals is “horribly destructive to our neighborhoods.” She pledged that if whole-home rentals are allowed at all, they would be highly restricted.

Sending the issue back to the Planning Commission would allow rules to be drafted that could be enforced, Head said. She pointed to the experiences both of New Orleans — where short-term rentals are illegal but the rules are difficult to enforce — and of other cities that have tried in vain to pass blanket bans and said enforceable regulations are needed to help crack down on the practice.

Only a handful of owners of short-term rentals showed up at the meeting. The Alliance for Neighborhood Prosperity, which represents them, had told its members not to come for what it considered a procedural vote.

While many of the arguments against short-term rentals have focused on their impact on the availability and cost of housing for residents, Andreanecia Morris, chairwoman of the Greater New Orleans Housing Alliance, a group of nonprofit homebuilders, said that is not her group’s primary concern.

Instead, she said, the organization is more concerned that devoting resources to enforcing short-term rental regulations would take away from code enforcement and public health inspections aimed at improving the quality of housing in the city.

“We hear a lot about this being an affordable housing issue, and the numbers don’t bear that up,” Morris said.

Follow Jeff Adelson on Twitter, @jadelson.