Groups pushing city to crackdown on illegal home, apartment rentals

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by Scott Satchfield / Eyewitness News

wwltv.com

Posted on March 2, 2011 at 7:42 PM

Updated Thursday, Mar 3 at 11:15 AM

NEW ORLEANS -- With a busy few days ahead, Bonnie Rabe is preparing her bed and breakfast on St. Charles Avenue for the celebration.

This weekend and others throughout the year, however, Rabe faces plenty of unfair competition for business.

"I believe for every one legitimate, licensed short-term rental in the city of New Orleans, there's at least two unlicensed, illegal short-term rentals," she said.

It's illegal to rent out a home, apartment, or condo in the city for fewer than 30 days at a time. In the French Quarter, it's a 60-day minimum.

But, take a quick look at websites like Craigslist, and you'll find it's a huge market these days, as folks advertise rentals for Mardi Gras, Jazz Fest, and even off-weekends.

Brian Furness and Meg Lousteau, leaders of two prominent French Quarter neighborhood groups, say the problems stretch well beyond unfair competition.

"You know, we get the complaints about, 'I just want to have a neighbor,' or 'We've had five groups of fraternity boys in the apartment down the hall for the past two weeks. They stay up all night. They come in at four o'clock in the morning. They don't have any respect for the people who are living here and trying to get a good night's sleep,'" said Lousteau, executive director of Vieux Carre’ Property Owners Residents and Associates.

Furness - who heads up the group, French Quarter Citizens, and co-chairs the Short Term Rental Committee - agrees.

"It also can disadvantage the guest or the visitor, because there are no inspections -- fire, safety, who knows," he said.

And the under-the-table deals leave a more citywide impact. It's another example of the city missing out on important tax dollars -- a reason some council members are now pushing the administration to ramp up enforcement.

"We've had to raise millages, we've had a $70 million budget deficit last year, we've all had to tighten our belts," said District C Councilwoman Kristin Palmer. "We're really actively looking to make sure everybody is paying their fair share."

For now though, many violators are doing what they can to avoid detection.

"Some clearly know the law and are very cagey about revealing addresses, features, and things that would identify them as illegal short-term rentals," Furness said.

But whether the violations are intentional or being committed by people who simply don’t know the law, the activity has potential to shake up any neighborhood.

"When you don't know who's going to be living next door to you day to day, you know, you're living next to basically a transient population rather than a neighbor," Lousteau said.

The Short Term Rental Committee says, by law, the city is supposed to designate a point person to handle complaints.

However, members say that hasn't happened.

A city spokesman sent this statement late Wednesday: "We look forward to working on the enforcement issue in the future." 

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