Spanish Town Airbnb battle heats up as draft ordinance becomes public

Spanish Town Civic Association members are raising concerns over an ordinance draft that would regulate short-term rentals in historic neighborhoods, which they complain favors outside investors, rather than the wishes of homeowners.

Earlier this year, Spanish Town residents began pushing for regulations to address issues they have with short-term rentals, such as Airbnbs, in the historic neighborhood. Among their demands are a requirement that the owner of a short-term rental property reside onsite as well as a ban on whole-house rentals owned by outside investors.

The ordinance that has been drafted, however, does not include those stipulations, according to copy obtained by Daily Report.

Instead, the draft—spearheaded by Metro Councilwoman Tara Wicker—calls for a 3% cap on homes in historic districts that may be operated as short-term rentals. Permits, which would cost $500 annually, will be issued on a first-come, first-served basis.

The fear is that outside investors will be first in line to receive the permits, precluding Spanish Town homeowners who want to share their homes as rental properties, says Spanish Town Civic Association board member Mary Jane Marcantel.

The association supports residents renting out their homes but is “totally against stand-alone investor properties that are nonresidential short-term rentals,” Marcantel says. And the ordinance in its current form does not represent that sentiment.

“Our property rights are fixing to be violated by the city of Baton Rouge to benefit outside investors,” Marcantel adds.

It’s unclear who drafted the ordinance, if it will be revised or when it will be presented to the council. Wicker did not return requests for comment.

Spanish Town Civic Association President Collin Richie has received a copy of the draft, but Richie says he recused himself from voting on the issue because he rents out two of his properties through Airbnb. (Disclosure: Richie is a contract photographer with Business Report.)

As head of the association, though, Richie agrees the draft does not reflect the neighborhood’s wishes and does nothing to address issues residents have had with whole-house rentals.

Those concerns include rental guests not abiding by Spanish Town rules and ordinances, and their vehicles taking up nearly all the parking along streets, which is troublesome in a neighborhood where parking is already scarce.

“(The draft ordinance) is not stopping the problem,” Richie says.

Ultimately, some residents worry if the issue persists it will erode the fabric of the historic neighborhood, impacting property values, Marcantel says.

Other cities across the nation, meanwhile, are moving toward tighter restrictions on short-term rentals, including New Orleans, which recently imposed a ban on whole-home listings in historic neighborhoods. None are allowed in the Garden District and French Quarter.

Not all Spanish Town residents oppose investors coming in and leasing whole-home rentals, though. Richie says some neighbors prefer investors fix up dilapidated homes rather than leaving them to further deteriorate.

Downtown Development District Executive Director Davis Rhorer, who has also received a copy of the draft, cautions the ordinance is not final and officials are awaiting feedback from the neighborhood.

“It’s just a draft,” Rhorer says. “It’s subject to change.”

Read a recent Business Report story on the concerns Spanish Town residents have over short-term rentals in their neighborhood.

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