The city of New Orleans recently passed sweeping regulations for vacation rentals available on platforms such as Airbnb and VRBO. The city is calling these types of rentals “short term rentals” (STRs) because they can be rented out for less than 30 days.
Most property owners can apply for a license, but there is one glaring exception. The new law prevents the city from issuing a short term rental license to any properties in the French Quarter. This does not change current law. A law that has been in place since 1957 bans any property rental in the French Quarter for a period of less than 60 days.
Legal Nonconforming Use of Short Term Rental Properties
It’s possible though, that some of the short term rentals in the French Quarter could be grandfathered in as a “legal nonconforming use.” A property is nonconforming if the use of the property, such as renting it as a vacation rental, is otherwise illegal under zoning laws and regulations.
The city would usually issue a cease and desist and may even file an injunction to stop this illegal use of property, but often doesn’t. When it doesn’t stop illegal use for a particular time frame, the use becomes a legal nonconforming use, and the illegal activity is grandfathered in.
Louisiana law calls that time frame a prescriptive period. It’s a similar concept to a statute of limitations. Louisiana Revised Statute 9:5625. It states that the city has 10 years from the date a written notice of the violation has been received to initiate legal action and enforce a zoning restriction in the French Quarter.
Therefore, if you have been operating a vacation rental in the French Quarter for at least 10 years, and you have the evidence to prove it, you may be able to legally continue using it as a vacation rental, even if the new law prevents it. In fact, you may even be allowed to apply for the proper permits, pay taxes, and otherwise run it as a legitimate business.
The process entails applying to the city, and organizing your evidence in a clear and convincing presentation. You aren’t required to hire an attorney, but I recommend that you do.