Right now, AirBnB is not supposed to be operating commercial businesses in quiet, residential neighborhoods. This is one of the many reasons why they said the UDC was created. However, a recent push by local Progressives could change all that.
Many Acadiana residents are familiar with AirBnB from their vacation rental property searches. Many condos at the beach (which are appropriately classified) appear for rent on places like AirBnB and VRBO (Vacation Rental By Owner). Some hotels have also opted to participate on such services to remain competitive in their local markets. In order to operate as short-term rental properties, these facilities must comply with local ordinances which provide safety for tenants and owners alike. Some of these include having smoke detectors, fire sprinkler systems, compliance with the citizens with disabilities act, adequate parking, and so forth. These places also collect sales and tourism taxes, which benefits local and state governments in the form of revenues.
Different sets of rules
Before the council in the next few weeks will be an ordinance changing local regulations and allow single-night rentals in residential zoned property. These changes would allow the rental of personal homes, or portions of homes (such as mother-in-law quarters or outdoor kitchens) without having to meet any of the safety regulations or building codes.
It creates an uneven playing field, in which small businesses with tens or sometimes hundreds of employees are forced to compete with homeowners with zero employees or overhead. These changes would also legalize increased traffic and noise in formerly quiet neighborhoods. Many homeowners who have had these pop-up next door are incredibly upset by the proposed legalization.
The effect of this competition will be to drive down the prices of short-term rental properties. While this may sound great on the surface, it misses a major issue. The larger renters must comply with the rules or risk losing their license to operate. The one-person operations don’t have to comply – and even if they did have to, they can’t lose a license they aren’t required to have.
Are the current, illegal AirBnBs even collecting taxes?
The argument has been made that AirBnB is collecting taxes, which is good for the government’s revenue stream. Even if we assume that’s true, we know that a zero-overhead business can afford to offer rooms for much less than a hotel or bed and breakfast. The hotel tax is a percentage (4% to be exact). That means if the transaction costs less, then the tax revenue is also less.
However, instead of supposing that AirBnBs are collecting taxes, we should find out if they are. As it turns out, both sales and tourism taxes in Lafayette Parish are collected by the exact same organization: the Lafayette Parish School System. So, a quick phone call should be able to clear this up. Or should it?
According to Ms. Stacey Ashy, the director of the tax division at the school system, that information is secret and exempt from public records law. Not only is there no way to find out how much sales and tourism tax dollars are being generated by AirBnB properties, there’s not even a way to determine if they’re paying anything at all. So, anyone arguing that AirBnB small businesses are contributing significant amounts of tax dollars have absolutely no way to prove it.
Should Lafayette legalize AirBnB in residential neighborhoods?
Here’s your opportunity to speak up about this issue, either way. Filling out the form below will create a “blue card” to be delivered to the Lafayette City Council at introduction on July 7th, and for final adoption on July 21st (should it be introduced). If you’d prefer to show up, the council meetings start at 6:00pm on those dates. The introduction will take place at the end of the July 7th meeting, so showing up closer to 6:30 or 7:00pm would probably in time.