NOLA & the Legalization of Short Term Rents – the Real Story

As some of you know I have had the pleasure of representing many of the property owners that short term rent their properties.  The Alliance for Neighborhood Prosperity was founded to organize the property owners to have a single voice against the citizen zealots who are against everything and now the hotel industry.  The Alliance represents approximately one-third (1/3) of all listings on AirBnB.  However, please note, I do not represent AirBnB, VRBO, Project Homeaway or another of the hosting companies.  

I have been in this battle for more than two (2) years, after the City received a complaint that one of my clients was violating the short term rental law.  The battle continued in the form of enforcement, but that has since been stopped and we have been working with the Administration and Council for a viable solution.  We studied other jurisdictions - what has failed and successful and developed what we believe is a good solution.  From permitting, to licensing, to taxes, and enforcement - the ordinance was presented to City Planning and the Council; some of our ideas were adopted, but not all; however, the legislation is still months away from the Council and there remains time to get a comprehensive solution enacted.

The fight is very much like Uber v. Taxi, minus the fact I wasn't fighting an outdated law banning short term rentals.  For those that do not know the law is from 1956.  We are an old City, but that doesn't mean we have to stay that way - by way of example is illegal to have four females living in the same house.  (Would love to challenge that law on enforceability.)  There is a list of old laws that need to be removed, come have a drink with me sometime and I tell you the real fun ones.

In the end, I feel there will be some form of legalization, but like most things in politics the compromise will be the question.  This Administration and even some Council members have seen the light in the form of substantial tax dollars and a way to incentivize developers who might not ordinarily want to redevelop an area.  But, give a permit for short term rental and opinions change.

The hottest and most contested issues is whole home rentals (the renting of your entire house), but if those are not included there will not be sufficient tax dollars to offset the cost of enforcement.  And, likely we will be left with status quo and having an unregulated industry.  The Alliance is against this premise and as stated many times over want - legalization, regulation, and taxation.  

The Garden District Association (I believe their opinion is if it's not in my backyard its fine) & French Quarter Associations (oddly enough where I live) are really fighting the Alliance on all issues, but the Mayor has said what is good for one neighborhood is good for all of them and there won't be carve outs.  

The reality is legalization will not cause more people to just enter the market.  The sky will not fall and entire subdivisions will not be short term rented; that's what the twenty percent (20%) say and are uninformed and intentionally use buzz words like "gentrification".  The second biggest mistruth is the effect on affordable housing, which as demonstrated time and time again - there is no evidence of that, and, in fact, sixty-nine percent (69%) of the Alliance's properties were blighted before being placed back into commerce.  But let's not the truth and facts get in the way of some good old fashioned fear mongering. The fact is market is already at saturation point as the price per night is falling as the market is very competitive.  Add in the fact that Hollywood South (New Orleans' film industry) has had an eighty percent (80%) decrease (honestly what gave birth to this industry was the development of Hollywood South) and the competition is stiff real stiff.

Finally, the hotel industry's change in strategy is completely stupid and obviously not well planned out.  At first, they stated they were not against, but wanted a level playing field, which came in the form of HB 59 signed into law and effective July 1, 2016, making all short term rentals pay the exact same tax as they are subject - and better than that - AirBnB, VRBO, Project Homeaway, etc charges, collects, and remits the taxes.  (Balance achieved or so we thought.)  However, at the last public meeting regarding the ordinance before the City's City Planning Commission the hotel industry bussed in workers some still wearing their uniforms, gave them speaking cards, and paraded them up one by one.  The hotel industry's new spin - it will take jobs away and their employees can't afford to live in the City close to their place of work, like the French Quarter or Warehouse district.  Although the card read speeches were laughable at best, the hotel industry has chosen the strategy of the zealots and ignoring the facts.

One, during the greatest increase in the number of units available - the hotels posted record occupancy rates and profits.  This is in addition to the fact that more hotel rooms became available and even more are on the way.  Two, the reason they can't afford to live in the French Quarter or Warehouse District is the hotels don't pay their employees a living wage.  The hotel industry certainly will not address that issue, nor will they address the fact that if allowed the French Quarter would be surrounded if not invaded by hotels.  Nor will they address the fact that money made in NOLA goes back to some out of state company that could careless about issues in our City unless of course it affects revenue.  

But to be fair, let's analyze the local property owners who short term rental.  All the contractors who are employed by my clients are making money (and it stays local); the reason - they negotiated a rate between two small businesses owners and the result is the foundation of which this country was founded; America is great! 

The ordinance we have provided has density requirements, permitting, licensing, taxes, enforcement procedures, and even provides for the development of affordable housing through incentivizing developers.  It is not something that was developed in a minute, rather over the course of a couple years of attending meetings with neighborhood groups and reviewing other jurisdictions' laws failures and successes.  What is notable is most of the people we spoke to are not against short term rentals as proclaimed by the various homeowner associations they just want them taxed.  A poll that was conducted had sixty-seven percent (67%) favoring the legalization.  

In conclusion, this is not a conservative or liberal issue. It is about common sense, good leadership, responsible ownership, and property rights. I believe our ordinance is just that, and always willing to accept constructive criticism about any provision as I am certain it can be made better. In the meantime, the State is collecting a tax on an illegal activity; similar to Lafitte and his pirates in that while illegal, they are doing a great service to the City by hosting tourist who ordinarily would not visit.