As complaints pour in over illegal short-term rentals during festival season, the New Orleans City Council aims to step up enforcement.
Council members are calling on the City Planning Commission to hold a public hearing on the issue and to redefine the current laws.
This weekend, huge crowds are filling the streets for French Quarter Festival, and it's one of many times throughout the year when business is booming for illegal short-term vacation rentals.
Meg Lousteau, who belongs to a French Quarter neighborhood group, says it's a citywide problem.
"If you go to some of the popular websites, you can find hundreds and hundreds and hundreds. My guess is that it's in the thousands," she said. "I have personally witnessed a great number of illegal short-term rentals in the French Quarter, in Treme, we hear stories from the Marigny. So, yeah, this is a practice that is spreading like wildfire."
Now, the council is taking the first steps toward beefing up enforcement.
"If we could use a stronger fine on some of these small illegal bed and breakfasts, I think they would pay attention," said Councilwoman Jackie Clarkson.
Clarkson will be leaving office in less than a month, but she's working on this issue until then. On Thursday, a measure she co-authored passed. It calls on the planning commission to close loopholes in the current law.
"We're going to redefine it, but we want to do it through public hearing and we want to change the process of enforcement," Clarkson said. "Instead of depending on the courts, we're going to depend on administrative adjudication."
Clarkson points out that hotels, motels and legal rentals lose out on business, and the city misses out on tax dollars. In addition, she said the illegal rental properties diminish the quality of life for neighbors.
"It erodes residential integrity in all of our best historic neighborhoods - French Quarter mostly, but many others, too," she said. "Secondly, it's not fair to the legal bed and breakfasts and hotels motels that are paying taxes."
While recent efforts to spark enforcement by neighborhood groups have been mostly fruitless, Lousteau believes the tide may finally be turning.
"I think that the extent of the problem is getting to be so widespread that there is going to be an outcry from a lot of places for the city to step up its enforcement efforts," she said.
Clarkson and Lousteau said there is another growing concern: The huge number of illegal rentals is shrinking the housing stock for residents, which in turn is driving up rents.