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The New York Times Takes on New Orleans' Airbnb Debate

New Orleans' short-term rental debate is the microcosm of many greater issues

One source in a story in this weekend's New York Times about the New Orleans short-term rental debate said it best: "Why is it dragging on?"

The debate on services like Airbnb and VRBO in tourist-heavy New Orleans has picked up in the last few years, but the closest thing we've seen to updated rules regarding the rentals was a set of preliminary regulations presented at the City Planning Commission recently.

The New York Times story zooms in on the short-term rentals battle, playing out in tourist destinations all over the country, in New Orleans, where the sheer number of rentals, plus all the, you know ... other problems we have, makes it impossible to regulate them. The city's Deputy Mayor Ryan Berni even says as much: "We just didn’t feel like we had the tools to do it."

Another impediment to regulation is that the services themselves can't realistically regulate, either, since Airbnb and similar companies would have to be up on the regulations of the thousands of cities it services. "Airbnb promotes itself as an enabler of human connection and community, but leaves compliance with local laws to the users and regulators," the story notes. However, Airbnb, for example, has begun to add tax collection tools in some of its cities.

The article mostly focuses on the havoc tourists wreak on residential homes and neighborhoods (overflowing trash cans, "floors covered with vomit") and the complexities in creating short-term regulations that work, but it doesn't really discuss the implications short-term rentals have on a city's affordable housing stock. This is been a huge sticking point for locals, who claim Airbnbs are taking up potential full-time rentals—or even forcing renters out of their homes.

But even if those preliminary regulations, the details of which "will take months to sort out," become laws, they still may be hard to enforce. If, for example, it becomes a law to obtain a certain license for your rental, and one would have to enter that license number on the rental's listing, "it would be too onerous to adjust [short-term rental services'] software to accommodate every regulatory arrangement for thousands of municipalities around the world."

So is it even worth pursuing regulations if enforcing them remains difficult? As one "superhost" quoted in the article said, New Orleans has had a tradition of taking in lodgers "for 300 years." But, this same superhost is cool with regulations: "Just tax it, and let’s go about our day," he says.

Airbnb Pits Neighbor Against Neighbor in Tourist-Friendly New Orleans [New York Times]
Evicted: How a landlord jumping into the short-term rental market cost us our home [The Lens]
All short-term rental coverage [Curbed NOLA]