Protesters gather outside City Hall last Thursday (Jan. 10) as Council debates new STR regs.

Permits Issued Under 2016 Ordinance Should be Granfathered

The people of new Orleans can hardly keep up with what the City Council is doing on the issue of Short-Term Rentals and the rules that governor them. To be sure, it seems like we’ve been talking about STRs for the longest time.

Earlier this week, the Council approved motions tightening restrictions on the local STR industry. Those motions will go to the city planning commission for further examination, more public hearings and recommendation. The commission, we assume, will do its thing, and then send recommendations on the proposed amendments back to the Council for a final vote. And this would sort of make sense if months of work and planning and hearings—like for real, the exact same process—had not already taken place when the now suspended STR rules were first established—barely two years ago.

Talk about a waste of time and money. The last two years would have been better spent if the Council had focused on the real issue of affordable housing, instead of attacking the STR industry, in general, and more specifically, individual property owners trying to get a head.

Of course, what makes matters worse for local owners of investment property is that these new restrictions all but shut them out of the growing industry while essentially leaving the large, out-of-town or even local corporate STR operators unscathed and set to monopolize the market. Yes, somehow members of the New Orleans City Council have convinced themselves and are trying to convince the rest of us that a local resident with a handful of investment properties is somehow responsible for the city’s affordable housing crisis, while major, multi-billion dollar corporations are allowed to run apartment buildings like hotels.

We’re not falling for it. And we’ve not been shy about our position on this matter. It is the hotel industry and other giant real estate acquisition and management companies that have fueled the anti-STR movement. And they have done so, not because small-time local property owners are hurting neighborhoods or making hard for folks to find affordable places to live, but because they are hurting their bottom lines, even if it is just a little bit.

We have said regulation is good, but it ought to be fair. And what is happening now is anything but fair.

Local residents made investments. They put property they purchased and renovated with their hard-earned money on the STR market in good faith based on the regulations passed by the Council not 30 years ago or 20 or 10 or even five—but barely TWO years ago, so it would be pretty hard to argue that those rules are outdated. To now erase those rules is unfair. But, those local property owners who invested their time and money now face the very real possibility that the way they have chosen to capitalize on their small-time investments will soon be illegal while corporate owners of 100-unit buildings celebrate ribbon cuttings as they prepare to convert them into short-term rentals.

It’s not fair that the City Council that is attacking local property owners’ ability to use their houses as they please is the same Council that has given big-time developers all sorts of variances and exceptions to zoning regulations on major residential and mixed-use development projects without forcing them to adhere to the inclusionary zoning laws that would help address the city’s affordable housing challenges.

It’s not fair, that after this issue was debated and rules were established, the Council to now act as if they never existed or as if the city never issued hundreds of permits to local property owners who have played by those rules. For the City Council to just change them now is disingenuous. And that is putting it politely.

Still, we are hopeful that as the planning commission takes this issue up, and the people of New Orleans are given additional opportunities to share their opinions, the Council will at least consider grandfathering those property owners that entered the STR market based on the 2016 ordinance and perhaps go further by creating a truly evenhanded ordinance that allows local property owners to operate in the market in a reasonable and fair manner.

It’s time for some good faith and fair play.

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