Expedia refuses to answer New Orleans' subpoena over short-term rental

NEW ORLEANS (WVUE) - An internet giant is refusing to turn over information to the City of New Orleans - even after being issued subpoenas to do so.

Expedia owns the short-term rental platforms VRBO and HomeAway. Neither company has shared information with New Orleans in order to make sure hosts abide by the city's regulations.

The popular short-term rental platform AirBnb shares information with New Orleans to make sure hosts rent out their places for no more than 90 days a year.

But when hosts max out on Airbnb, they can switch over to another platform and rent out additional days without fear of retaliation.

"Right now, they have absolutely no incentive to comply with our rules," Vieux Carre Property Owners, Residents and Associates Executive Director Meg Lousteau said. "It's like playing Whack-a-Mole, and the city is doing the whacking, but there are a million holes but just one hammer."

Lousteau strongly opposes short-term rental expansion in the city. She said hosts jump from platform to platform to get around regulations.

"Unfortunately, this is emblematic of how the short-term rental industry has behaved in virtually every city in the world. They want to come in. They want to use our homes and our properties, but they don't want to play by the rules we set for them," Lousteau said.

She is hopeful the incoming city council will be stricter with short-term rental regulations.

To get Expedia's platforms in line, city officials issued administrative subpoenas to get the company to turn over the data, but Expedia refused.

Expedia spokesman Philip Minardi said it would not comply citing the federal Stored Communications Act, which limits the company's ability to turn over host information, according to our partners at Nola.com/The Times Picayune.

Expedia also told the paper it offered to warn hosts if they exceeded the 90 days allotment.

New Orleans Director of Safety and Permits Jared Munster responded to the refusal in an email stating,

"Since July 2017, the Department of Safety and Permits has been in contact with Expedia multiple times in an attempt to partner in the regulation of illegal short term rentals in New Orleans. Expedia has refused to comply with the City's subpoena for information citing the federal Stored Communications Act rendering any further partnership a benefit only to them. Expedia has made it clear that they do not wish to assist us on any terms but their own. The City finds this unacceptable and the Department of Safety and Permits will work with the City Attorney to determine the appropriate course of action to continue robust enforcement of the City's regulations."

"It's absolutely concerning because there is the letter of the law and the spirit of the law. Though you may be abiding by the letter of the law, are you getting around the spirit of the law? We want to make sure that there is a cross-reference available, that there is a data base available," Mason Harrison said.

Harrison is the communications director for Mayor-Elect Latoya Cantrell. He said the incoming mayor will push this issue with the city attorney's office to get Expedia in compliance.

"This is something that she is well aware of, and she has spoken to this issue consistently in terms of making sure that the fabric of neighborhoods continue to be protected. To the extent that people are making it difficult to do that, we want to make sure they are good faith partners and that includes Expedia and other vendors such as that," Harrison said.

On April 24th, the city planning commission will hold a public hearing on a short-term rental study recently conducted.

The hearing begins at 3 p.m. in city council chamber.

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