A new threat from rowdyism: Airbnb party houses


From time to time, I write here about the issue of noise and rowdy behavior, and how it affects residential neighborhoods in some of our great American cities — particularly in my hometown of New Orleans.  My native city has always been known as a place to have a good time, and our great music spots and some of our classic bars and nightclubs remain a civic treasure. But — as noted here before — something has changed in the decade since Hurricane Katrina and its flooding devastated New Orleans. To win back as many tourist dollars as possible, an anything-goes mentality has prevailed — and code enforcement and sometimes even law enforcement has suffered.

But to be fair, it’s not just New Orleans. The party culture among young people is indulged by profit-seeking adults all over the U.S.A. — and behaviors that were once socially unacceptable are now welcomed (by some people, anyway) in a number of tourism hot spots. Increasingly in the Internet age, new technologies have made it for much easier for rowdy travelers to find each other — and find trouble.

Recently, the New York Times had a revealing story on how residential homes in desirable neighborhoods in fun locales — like Austin, Texas, Nashville, and, of course, New Orleans — are now advertised and rented out as short-term party vacation stays, on popular websites such as Airbnb and Homestay.com. Here’s an excerpt:

When Austin tried to bring some order to the proceedings three years ago, it limited the number of unrelated people who could stay in one place at one time to six. (It also capped the number of certain listings in many neighborhoods, albeit with a loophole that has allowed many unregistered properties to hit the market.)

Nevertheless, listings began appearing all over the city advertising beds for 10 or 15 people, or more. Austin has become a popular bachelor partydestination, and the website Thrillist described one Airbnb listing as “the perfect place to bed down for a bonkers bachelor party, as it’s a short bike ride from downtown, just the right blend of weird & huge, and not at all unaccustomed to rowdy entertainment.”

Emmy Jodoin lives next door to that house with her family. “It is loud, and there is live music and karaoke stuff, and it’s all done outside because of the pool,” she said. “They’re out in front at 4 in the afternoon waiting for their Uber to come, drunk on the front lawn.”

Homeowners had other complaints about guests, including trash bins overflowing with beer cans, public urination, catcalling, foul language, racist remarks, companies throwing events and the appearance of a rainbow-colored painted pony. “Sometimes, when they are outside, they’re playing beer pong just wearing their underwear,” said Hazel Oldt, age 11, who can see them next door from the third-floor rooftop garden of her house.

Many of the complaints result when there are well over six people staying at these houses. So how do owners get away with renting to more people than city rules allow? “Determining how many are occupying versus just visiting is almost impossible,” Carl Smart, who is the director of Austin’s code department, said, chuckling as he did so.

As the article notes, the rules are both clear and extremely hard to enforce. Yet it’s obvious that in many cases these so-called “guests” are violating noise and other ordinances, and property values nearby are taking a hit. One resident told the Times: “They are leveraging our neighborhood for their profit, telling people to come stay in this beautiful place where you would like to pretend that you live,. And they are making people miserable.”

Needless to say, I’m worried in particular how this trend will affect New Orleans. The city’s code enforcement officers have been overwhelmed since Katrina, both in fighting blight in poor neighborhoods and with rowdy behavior in the French Quarter and other tourist zones. The laws on the book are strict — unlicensed short term rentals are banned in New Orleans, period — but are so seldom enforced as to render this statute almost meaningless. It’s time for New Orleans to both update its laws when it comes to online residential rentals — and then to find the means to enforce them. We can’t afford to lose another battle on the war on rowdy conduct.

Read the New York Times article on an Airbnb party house in Austin: http://www.nytimes.com/2015/10/10/your-money/new-worry-for-home-buyers-a-party-house-next-door.html?smid=nytcore-ipad-share&smprod=nytcore-ipad&_r=0

Learn the story about how I became a noise pollution activist in my new book, Crude Justice: How I Fought Big Oil and Won, and What You Should Know About the New Environmental Attack on Americahttp://shop.benbellabooks.com/crude-justice

© Stuart H. Smith, LLC 2015 – All Rights Reserved

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Stuart H. Smith is an attorney based in New Orleans fighting major oil companies and other polluters.
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