Dozens of short-term rental operators and supporters voiced their opposition before Lafayette’s City Council Tuesday to a pair of competing proposals that would ban or restrict STRs, like Airbnb and VRBO, from most neighborhoods in the city.
The proposals, authored and introduced separately, drew a capacity crowd to Tuesday’s council meeting. Operators and their supporters warned both plans would put them out of business and complained the ordinances appeared without any input from local stakeholders.
“It’s pretty clear from these ordinances that they were written by someone who has no knowledge of the short-term rental industry and that they also failed to consult with short-term rental owners, because there are better ways to address those potential issues,” STR operator Teresa Pastor said at the meeting.
Local regulations don’t currently address short-term rentals, and the operations aren’t limited by zoning at this time. Without local licensing, it is unclear how many STRs operate in Lafayette, but estimates suggest there are between 300 and 600, with many concentrated in neighborhoods near Downtown.
City Council members said in March they were looking into a variety of options for the city’s first rules for short-term rentals, including a general agreement that the operations should be registered and licensed locally. Mayor-President Josh Guillory also solicited participants for a community group on the issue, though the effort never materialized.
But the two plans before the council Tuesday showed no signs of the compromises contemplated earlier this year and instead emerged as disparate solutions that would clearly make one side the winner at the other’s expense.
One proposal from Councilman Andy Naquin would prohibit STRs in neighborhoods zoned exclusively for single-family residences, which amount to 75% of residential areas in the city, including the Saint Streets in Naquin’s district where many STRs are concentrated. An opposing plan from Councilman Pat Lewis would allow short-term rentals in all residential areas, but nonetheless impose permitting requirements supporters say are too restrictive. A map of zoning districts is available online from LCG.
Both would prohibit operators from renting out individual rooms or parts of dwellings, which STR owners oppose, saying the prohibition would hurt their operations. They also require operators to notify neighbors when they apply for a city permit, but neither proposal gives neighbors a greater say over rentals aside from making complaints to Lafayette Consolidated Government.
Reached Wednesday, Naquin said he did not intend for the residential ban to apply to owner-occupied STRs and that he is working on a change ahead of the council’s final vote on July 25 to allow only owner-occupied rentals to operate in residential areas.
“The whole intent of this is not to hurt the owner-occupied by any means,” Naquin says. “I was under the impression that it did not affect owner-occupied [rentals] at all.”
Both options stand to substantially disrupt existing STRs, says Pat Mould, who was an early adopter of online short-term rentals. But Naquin’s proposed ban in single-family areas is an existential threat, he says, that would force hundreds of operations to move to other parts of the city or shut down altogether.
“Both ordinances, but in particular Andy’s, just decimate the short-term rental business in this town. You’re affecting a lot of people, and I don’t know that they really, truly understand,” Mould says.
STR operators opposed both proposals at issue Tuesday, but Naquin’s stands to be a victory for opponents of short-term rentals who say they disrupt the character of single-family neighborhoods and do not belong in them.
“These are residential single-family dwellings. That’s the zoning,” Stephanie Cornay said Wednesday. “Why should it be more complex than that? This is lodging,” noted Cornay, who has for years pushed the council to remove STRs from single-family neighborhoods. “Do we have zoning ordinances for a reason, or should we just throw all the zoning ordinances out?”
The council decided to move forward with both plans, tentatively setting final votes for July 25, though their details may change in the meantime.
The lack of any task force or work group to develop the proposed STR rules was a central criticism from operators at Tuesday’s meeting.
“We’ve been talking about this or expecting it for three years. Many of us signed up for the mayor’s task force [in February], and that never happened. Many of us reached out quite often to different council people that we were familiar with,” says Gisele Menard, who has operated an STR in a single-family area outside Downtown for nearly a decade. “There was never a town hall to really get a good cross-section of people together to talk and not just to say something for three minutes to the council and then sit down without any back and forth.”
Cities around the country have used community work groups to develop local policies for short-term rentals, which have spread rapidly and frequently outpaced local laws that might regulate them. From those, some cities have implemented STR regulations that cap the number of permits they issue or paused new permits altogether, while others have required STR operators to live onsite, though New Orleans’ local ownership requirement was shot down by a federal court this year.
Others, like Alamosa, Colorado, near the Great Sand Dunes National Park, have prohibited STRs everywhere except single-family areas and individual apartments to prevent them from proliferating in multifamily housing buildings.
Those approaches have generally been in response to the impact of prolific STR operations on local housing markets, which Pastor, a real estate agent, pointed out is not a significant factor affecting housing in Lafayette since STRs account for at most 1% of the city’s housing stock.
“The argument that these are taking over is completely inflated,” she said Tuesday. “And it’s been exaggerated by a lot of people.”
Naquin’s plan more closely resembles STR bans enacted in Jefferson and St. Tammany parishes in recent years, which similarly prohibited short-term rentals in residential-only areas primarily because of frustration from neighbors, though compliance has not come easily in either parish.
“These are commercial operations in residential single-family neighborhoods. It’s a full-blown business, a hotel. That’s the bottom line,” Naquin says. “This is protecting the residential single-family neighborhoods.”