In August of 2022, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that New Orleans’ short-term rental (STR) laws were unconstitutional. By determining who can obtain an STR license based on a homestead exemption, or proof of ownership and occupancy of a single residence, the court ruled New Orleans’ laws in violation of the Constitution’s Commerce Clause, which restricts states and other jurisdictions from impairing interstate commerce. With a court-imposed deadline of March 31st to pass an ordinance that creates new STR regulations, City Council, with City Planning Commission recommendations in hand, is tasked with balancing the interests of out-of-state real estate investors and the needs of local New Orleanians.
For the Louisiana Fair Housing Action Center (LaFHAC), our efforts to impose tight restrictions and reliable enforcement on STRs has always been primarily driven by our commitment to fight displacement and segregation. The unchecked proliferation of STRs in New Orleans has contributed to the hollowing out of many historically Black neighborhoods and helped supercharge gentrification.
LaFHAC knows that STRs only benefit a small minority of New Orleanians and estimates that the number of legally operating owners who are also New Orleans residents at just a few hundred people. The 159,000 households who live here should be the top priority in the STR regulation rewrite, the vast majority of which surely do not want to live next door to a whole-unit STR.1
1American Community Survey, 2021 1-year estimates. Table B25003.
STRs in neighborhoods are not neutral businesses like restaurants or shops. They are nuisance businesses. STRs may benefit their owner, but they displace residents, increase taxes and rent for neighbors, artificially inflate housing costs, and bring quality of life violations and sometimes violence. New Orleans needs simpler rules, clear enforcement, serious penalties, and more resources deployed to actually meet the needs of our affordable housing crisis.
At the end of January, the City Planning Commission (CPC) sent their approved recommendations to City Council, and LaFHAC’s latest policy recommendations are based on this report. There are places where the CPC got it right, and lots of places where regulations must be tightened and enforcement must be strengthened.
What the City Planning Commission Got Right
Where City Council Should Tighten the Reins for Stricter Regulations
Density: The CPC recommended one STR per block face, or two per every block in the city. This is far to permissive. Whole-unit rentals should be banned entirely in residential areas, or at the very least STRs should be limited to one permit per square block. Any existing commercial STRs permits or Bed and Breakfast permits should count toward that total.
Conversions: City Council should impose a conversion fee on any unit that changes from a long-term rental to a short-term rental, and those fees should be directed to the Neighborhood Housing Improvement Fund. The Healthy Homes Ordinance’s rental registry will be instrumental in tracking these conversions, and the fees will go back towards the City’s efforts to build affordable housing.
Swift Adjudications: City Council should write into the ordinance strict enforcement policies that require serious violations like operating without a permit, operating over capacity limits, and illegally advertising to be immediately referred to adjudication. We simply cannot wait while violations stack up to punish those who are acting in bad faith.
Steeper Penalties: The current fines are absorbed by bad actor owners and operators as “the cost of doing business.” We recommend that anyone in violation of the new STR laws should receive a ban on the property receiving an STR permit for 10 years into the future, preventing owners from easily flipping the property to a family member or friend and continuing to operate.
Commercial STRs Should Cross Subsidize Affordable Housing
Commercial and mixed-use zones, like Magazine St., St. Claude, and Oretha Castle Haley, are often adjacent to residential zones or even bisect them and function as neighborhood main streets. In these areas, Commercial STRs are more detrimental than hotels because they displace residents and don’t have 24 staff for security and quality of life concerns. These Commercial STRS provide no benefit to the residents in the surrounding neighborhoods unless they are required to cross-subsidize affordable housing. LaFHAC recommends the following:
LaFHAC will continue to push City Council toward strict and quick enforcement and clear rules for the upcoming rewrite of New Orleans’ short-term rental laws. We are also dedicated to insisting that if short-term rentals are going to exist in our City, they should only be allowed when they provide real benefits to our residents and communities. City Council has the opportunity to stop the proliferation of STRs, halt the rapid gentrification of our historically Black neighborhoods, and finally address one of the worst actors in our ever-growing housing crises by prioritizing New Orleans residents over real-estate investors.
Take Action Now: Click through here to call your City Councilmember and tell them New Orleans needs simpler rules, clear enforcement, and serious penalties in the new short-term rental laws.