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The following article appeared on NOLA.com on February 23, 2015:
 
Another successful Mardi Gras has come and gone. Thousands of visitors came to New Orleans to enjoy the "greatest free show on earth." How many of them stayed in an unlicensed, unregulated rental? A July 2014 University of New Orleans Hospitality Research Center study reported that approximately 100,000 visitors to New Orleans in 2013 stayed in private home rentals. While we don't know the exact count, it's clear that many of those rentals were illegal, and it's high time to do something about it.
 
Tourism and events like Mardi Gras fuel the economic engine that powers our region. Private businesses from the largest hotels to the smallest restaurants and hospitality vendors that operate in our tourism sector must buy licenses, pay taxes and fees and pass inspections. Such requirements are logical and reasonable. They are aimed at regulating guest safety and hospitality standards for tourists and providing tax revenue for the government.
 
However, a large and growing number of unlicensed "transient vacation rentals" are operating in tourist meccas nationally like New Orleans with impunity, many of them accessed via the online booking engine, Airbnb. Allowing such unregulated rentals to exist is like tolerating the presence of unlicensed, rogue taxi services to operate in the city. It has to end now.
 
The problem isn't just a matter of unfair lodging competition that creates an uneven playing field. What about tourist safety concerns? Just for a moment, consider tourism industry reputation consequences that would result from a high-profile tragedy like a fire in one of these places that never had a fire marshal inspection -- much less smoke alarms and a sprinkler system as one would find in a hotel.
 
A recent study by the state attorney general in New York provides some context for the growing scale of this problem. In New York City, 72 percent of Airbnb rentals are illegal. That translated to a three-year tax revenue loss of more than $33 million by the city. The New York attorney general has announced the formation of a joint enforcement initiative with the city of New York to investigate aggressively and shut down illegal rental establishments in the city's five boroughs.
 
Other prominent international tourist destinations like San Francisco and Paris also are moving ahead with laws to license, tax and regulate this growing lodging segment.
 
We need the same action here. The Greater New Orleans Hotel and Lodging Association, which has received numerous complaints from visitors arising from bookings at illegal short-term rentals, is pressing the City Planning Commission and City Council to tighten the zoning ordinance that defines a "transient vacation rental." With that, presumably, will follow stricter enforcement of the laws and regulations against those operating illegally.
 
It's also time for others in the city's hospitality industry to stand up and push for reforms. The New Orleans Convention and Visitors Bureau and the New Orleans Tourism Marketing Board should also get out front loudly and publicly on this issue before it grows larger and more complicated, politically and economically.
 
Many groups are watching closely how our city political and hospitality leaders confront this trend. Tax associations, neighborhood civic associations, organized labor, disability advocates and affordable housing advocates are all key stakeholders on the issue as they, too, are impacted negatively by the unequal applicability of laws pertaining to the lodging industry in New Orleans.
 
Private home rentals that are operating illegally must be required to comply with the same standards as everyone else in the tourism industry. On this issue, let's get it right.
 
Kerry Ranson is president of Expotel Hospitality Services, LLC, a New Orleans-based hotel owner/management firm that operates seven properties in the New Orleans region and 16 nationally.
 
Link to article online:  http://www.nola.com/politics/index.ssf/2015/02/regulate_short-term_rentals_in.html
 
 

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