Short-term rentals not all bad and not the real issue: Letter to council

Dear Councilmembers,

I wanted to share my thoughts on short-term rentals and on rental rights as a whole, even though I am unable to make the hearing.

First, I am a long-time renter in the city. I have been paying rent to various landlords since 1981 in downtown neighborhoods. Most of that time, I lived in the Quarter or in Mid City, and still live in the Quarter, as do other family members, who also rent. I have lived in cheap places well tended by the owners and in places badly maintained, interestingly those have often not been cheap!

How does this relate to your current issue of regulating short-term rentals?

Well, as you all know, we have had this issue in the Quarter for the better part of 3 decades, since the condo craze took hold in the mid 1980s. That era pushed out the diversity of residents, especially along Burgundy and Dauphine and led to too many short-term time-shares and too many empty corridors, which in turn led to more crime. Besides the loss of low-income housing in the Quarter (which was quite a blow to our working neighbors), the condos themselves were not the issue or even the time-sharing; the problem was the quantity of them and the complete lack of oversight and regulations on those condo owners which led to abuse.

People coming and going for short periods is not the issue as I see it; the issue is how many of them are in any one block and the level of owner responsibility of that space. I can walk you through the Quarter (as could almost any resident) and point out the lack of controls on many by showing you the many key locks hanging from the gates and the trash bags put outside illegally Monday morning. Still, many others are very well maintained, have regular residents in them and keep staff on hand for maintenance and cleaning. As in all things, the proper balance is the goal.

So I get the issue with short-term rentals, I do. I want to see some controls put in place that are workable for our overstressed City Hall but also want to encourage more residents both short-term and long-term in every neighborhood. Because let’s remember that short-term renters turn into long-term residents and even when they remain short-term renters, can be a boon to local businesses and added “eyes on the street.” I personally use airbnb when traveling across the US and as a single female, appreciate the chance to be in a neighborhood, live among residents and easily and safely reach neighborhood amenities. While there, I pick up trash, talk to neighbors and do other things as a short-term neighbor just as I would in my own.

In my mind, there are 2 systems of short term rentals: the “blighters” who leave key locks for folks to pick up their keys (not doing it in-person), rent to anyone with a buck and have numbers of short-term rentals in one area. (By the way, this does include university housing at times, which must also be under any short-term rental system created.)

The other system is responsible renters and homeowners who rent or sublease their place for extra income and want to be responsible and welcoming. And that group seems to be a significant amount of those using airbn no matter which set of skewed data one is using to analyze it.

We need a system to oversee both groups, linked by one transparent website but one with more detail than the current airbnb system. I believe that New Orleans can create a site that works with airbnb’s system but asks for added levels of transparency. With a small fee system per listing, a small, part-time staff can operate as the admin persons for the site.

Here are some of the added levels I would suggest:

  • Only one log in would be allowed per SS# and would also require a local mailing address, email and local phone number. All listings would have to be connected to verified logins.
  • For multiple listings, an added fee of 8% per listing will be added and go to the administering of the site. The 1099 for the listings issued by airbnb would be required to make payment. If someone does not submit a 1099 and pay the fee, the system sets a 2500.00 fine per listing.
  • In order to gain a new listing, the admin would review and that decision would be based on the number already on that city block, the number offered by the lister already and registered complaints against that lister.
  • For anyone renting one listing within their primary residence, they would pay an annual 2% fee.
  • To get the lower rate, a physical inspection would suffice for year one and then the 1099 for that listing would be submitted in future years along with their assessment paperwork or personal lease.
  • There should be an added review system for neighbors with a delay mechanism for the administrator to check on the veracity of that review before listing.
  • Additionally, fines can be levied for scofflaws, including noise or trash non-compliance with photos and signed affidavits from the accusers required.

Let’s also use this moment to realize that the issue with rentals is so much bigger than the current issue with short-term rentals: the lack of controls on affordability, proper maintenance and legal requirements being followed have been an issue for generations.

Let’s think about this; how can we encourage better relationships between responsible renters and landlords?

why not pursue tax credits for owners willing to offer rent-controlled apartments on upper floors of Canal Street or in certain areas of the city where grateful renters can balance out the short-term rentals or no residents?

Why not an increased homestead exemption (or assessment lowered) for homeowners offering 12 month or longer leases for a period of years?

Why not create a Rental Court for lease registrations and where issues of maintenance can be brought to a commission or a mediator? Fees from use of the system can pay for this and the online site (mentioned above) can be folded into this one.

What about encouraging shared housing? Plenty of buildings underused that could be easily turned into efficiencies with shared kitchens, using tex credits and city planning to encourage owners to develop these.

Clearly, what I hope for is a reasoned and inclusive response to the rental issue and hope that those railing against one website do not win. If they win by “outlawing” airbnb, the system will just move underground with more scofflaws taking advantage and the responsible homeowners giving up on being good hosts and landlords, short or long term.

About DW

New Orleans resident, writer, activist. Public market consultant.

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