As he continues to meet constituents on his way into the District B City Council office, Jay H. Banks recently heard what he calls a “horror story” about the proliferation of AirBnB in Uptown neighborhoods.
A woman who lives Uptown told him that she now has whole-home short-term rentals on either side of her house. She regrets the loss of permanent neighbors but generally tries to make do, until recently the house on one side of her was booked for a bachelor party, while the house on the other side was booked by an unrelated bachelorette party the same weekend.
That coincidence, Banks said, led to an easily predictable conclusion.
“It doesn’t take a brain surgeon to figure out that boys and girls like each other. So eventually what happened? The party ends up in the street,” Banks told the Faubourg Delachaise Neighborhood Association at their quarterly meeting Thursday. The woman couldn’t get the police to come, so she endured the noise all night, Banks said.
“That was the frustrating part,” Banks continued. “The disgusting part was, it looked like Mardi Gras out there after the party, with nobody responsible for picking it up other than her. The landlords of those properties, they’re not here. It doesn’t affect them. They got their money wired to them in their Paypal and they could not care less. That is a problem for me.”
Banks was already critical of the value of whole-home short-term rentals on the campaign trail, but now that he has been elected, he continues to hear more anecdotes like that one that convince him that the law needs to be changed, he said. Specifically, Banks said he is part of a growing chorus on the incoming New Orleans City Council that believes all residential short-term rentals should be restricted to homes where the owners live on the premises.
When the City Council legalized the use of short-term rental platforms like AirBnB last year, they created several different categories. To rent out part of a home, such as a guest room or half of a double, requires the property owner to have a homestead exemption — essentially requiring them to live on a site — but anyone can rent out a whole home for up to 90 days per year, even if they don’t live there.
Critics of short-term rentals have said that a quarter of the year — or essentially every weekend — is often lucrative enough for property owners to use houses they own exclusively as short-term rentals, weakening neighborhoods and reducing the long-term housing stock. During the legalization debate, District D Councilman Jared Brossett had sought to require homestead exemptions for that category as well, but only he and Councilwoman Susan Guidry voted for the proposal and it did not become part of the original law.
Over the past year’s Council elections, however, many candidates essentially pointed to Brossett’s amendment as what should have been done in the first place, and in several district-level races, the candidates in favor of such a tightening on AirBnB were those who won. Two weeks ago, incoming District A Councilman Joe Giarrusso III predicted that a majority of the new council now supports such a revision, and will see it as a legislative change they can make quickly while delving into longer-term problems like drainage and crime.
When Banks arrived at the Faubourg Delachaise meeting on Thursday evening, the association was already in the middle of a full-blown discussion of the short-term rental issue. The association had led opposition to a rezoning request at Louisiana and Constance, saying the plan for an ice-cream parlor was simply a “front” for more short-term rentals, and association members said the problem is growing ever further Uptown.
“The question is, where is the tipping point?” said association president Debby Pigman. “We’re in a neighborhood that is very attractive to people to come because you can walk to Magazine Street, you can go downtown, so people are buying houses and redoing them and turning them into short-term rentals.”
Echo Olander, whose home on Constance Street hosted the association’s meeting Thursday, said that she has counted 15 homes on her block, and four of them are now regularly listed short-term rentals, with a fifth house seeming to show signs of it as well. That would be fully a third of the houses on her block operating as hotels, she said, not in the celebrated tourist districts downtown, but in a traditionally residential neighborhood off Magazine Street.
In the past, some of the same neighbors who lived in the homes that are now on AirBnB would bring in each other’s trash cans or alert each other to move their cars if a storm was bringing some street flooding.
“We have a neighborhood where we know our neighbors, and you miss that,” Olander said. “It’s like walking out a hotel door; every day, there’s a new person there.”
Banks said the proliferation of short-term rentals is also exacerbating the shortage of affordable housing for the city’s workers. In one apartment building near his office at the Dryades YMCA on O.C. Haley, his staff members used to rent apartments for $500 a month. As the street developed, their rent rose to $800 — but now, the same units are listed for $1,800 per month, but they are in actuality being used as short-term rentals instead, Banks said.
“There’s nobody living there. Every other day you go out and there’s different cars in the parking lot,” Banks said. “It is a mini hotel in the heart of a neighborhood. They’re making mad money — I get that. But we’ve got to be mindful of the people who live here.”
For those reasons, Banks said he is “vehemently opposed” to short-term rentals by absentee landlords. The exception to that, he said, and what he supports, is individual home owners renting out part of their home while they are on the premises, so they can be responsible for what goes on and so the housing stock is retained.
“I think the homestead exemption ought to be the criteria to get the license,” Banks said. “I think you ought to have some vested interest in the neighborhood before you can get it.”
After the meeting, Olander said she was unaware her incoming councilman had adopted such a strong position on tightening short-term rentals, but was encouraged by his comments.
“It’s a critical issue for our community, I think,” Olander said. “If my neighbor wants to rent out half of their place, that’s fine, because they’re still there. If anything goes awry, they’re still there. There’s a person connected to the space. That makes it a neighborhood, not a hotel.”