Airbnb-style rentals on a commercial scale would be legal in residential neighborhoods under a set of rules set to be voted on by the City Planning Commission.
If the goal is to bring short-term-rentals out of the black market, New Orleans' latest proposal might be dead on arrival.
Tucked into a set of proposed zoning changes is a rule requiring all short-term rentals to provide off-street parking. Even "accessory" short-term rentals, those where residents rent out spare rooms, would be required to have a parking space.
Yet, off-street parking is exceedingly rare in New Orleans' historic neighborhoods, which are home to the overwhelming majority of the city's estimated 5,500 short-term rentals.
Jeffrey Goodman, an urban planner who tracks the short-term rental issue in New Orleans and briefly worked as a contractor for Airbnb, was at a loss as to why the city's planning staff would have inserted such a requirement into the rules it drew up.
It's possible that they wanted another means of limiting the number in the market, or creating a barrier that only serious players could overcome, Goodman said. In any case, the most likely result would be widespread lack of compliance with the permitting regime, he said, especially if websites such as Airbnb and HomeAway continue their refusal to actively police their sites for illegal listings.
"We could set the parking requirement at 20 spaces, and it wouldn't matter if there is no enforcement," Goodman said.
Only commercial operations would be capable of absorbing the cost associated with building driveways and finding properties capable of accommodating them, he said. Everyone else would simply go on working as they do now in the black market, Goodman predicted.
The requirement may be an attempt to mirror restrictions on bed-and-breakfast operations, which are, in theory at least, required to have off street parking.
Under the new rules, anyone who rents short term would have to have at least one off-street parking space plus an additional space for every two guest-rooms. Property owners could ask the Board of Zoning Adjustments to eliminate the requirement through a variance, but that would require people to deal with an additional layer of bureaucracy.
Most simply wouldn't bother, unless there were real consequences and consistent enforcement, which, if history is a guide, is far from a given, Goodman said. Short-term rentals are illegal nearly everywhere in New Orleans, but the city has done little to enforce the ban.
Even cities that have a regulatory regime in place have struggled to gain compliance.
Cities are starting to realize that the only way to prevent people from flouting the law is for the listing sites themselves to play a central role in enforcement, Goodman said.
The San Francisco Board of Supervisors earlier this month voted 10-0 to require Airbnb and other sites to post only listings by users with valid city permits. Failure to comply will result in daily $1,000 fines for each illegal unit listed.
The city's mayor, an Airbnb supporter, has questioned whether the law will survive a legal challenge, according to the San Francisco Examiner.
Goodman said New Orleans and other cities should follow San Francisco's lead so there is a united front. "If New Orleans and (Los Angeles) and San Francisco and Denver and Chicago are all angling for the same type of system, that's a lot more powerful vehicle for getting the Airbnbs of the world to cooperate and provide a workable system," he said.
The City Planning Commission was scheduled to consider the proposed zoning changes Tuesday (June 14), but deferred action until a future meeting. Mayor Mitch Landrieu's administration requested the delay.