Editor’s note: This column, about one couple’s dislocation by the burgeoning short-term rental market, is a companion to the recent column by Roberta Brandes Gratz on proposed regulation of such rentals.
After five and a half years of being a loyal and responsible tenant, I was told to vacate my apartment so my landlords could turn what I had grown to call “home” into a short-term vacation rental.
In addition to the formal letter, my landlords included a brief note stating that they plan to do the same with all of their rental properties. There go another four properties that could have been homes for New Orleanians.
To give some background, I moved into the apartment in July of 2010. I met the landlord when I was viewing one of her mother’s properties. After turning in my application too late for that place, I was told about a renovation she was completing in the Fairgrounds neighborhood. As soon as I viewed the place I fell in love with it, applied on the spot, and moved in as they were putting the finishing touches on the kitchen.
The apartment was half of a shotgun double on the back side of the Fairgrounds. For you Jazz Fest regulars, it was immediately behind the Gentilly Stage. The block was quiet with excellent neighbors – a mix of owners and renters like me. There was plenty of room to walk my dog, and sitting on the porch during Jazz Fest was paradise. I put out fresh baked muffins and cookies for Jazz Festers to enjoy.
My relationship with the landlords was equally fantastic. For the first year of my tenancy they lived on the other side of the shotgun. They would have me over for dinner and we would spend hours discussing everything from cats to politics. When I went out of town, they would watch my cats and I would return the favor. Later, when they moved to a house in Holy Cross, I found new tenants for their apartment. Later that year, I found them tenants for another one of their properties, and yet again two years later.
About two years ago, a family issue required them to leave the city for months at a time. They entrusted me with sensitive documents and had me deposit checks into their bank account on several occasions. I gladly looked in on their house — and their cats — and exhibited an unhealthy amount of patience as maintenance issues in my apartment began to stack up: broken dishwasher, windows that no longer opened, termite damage on the back deck, a broken sink, a broken dryer, thermostat issues, and multiple wasp infestations.
And then they sent the vacate notice.
I recognize that they are well within their legal rights to do so, especially given that we were on a month-to-month arrangement. But I also know that I was an ideal tenant with years of personal history with these people. When my fiancée, Quinn, and I were moving in, we told them that we were also looking at other places — they could have told us then. When they stopped by to pick up the rent in December or January they could have told us then.
But six years of being a model tenant means nothing compared to the prospect of the big bucks promised by short-term vacation rentals. And they want us out so they can rent it for Jazz Fest, a time when units in the area go for hundreds of dollars a day — compared to the $1,000 a month we were paying.
After the sting of betrayal and the rude awakening from my own naiveté, I began to think about this on a larger scale. I had read the reports and seen the stories about the exorbitant amount of short term rentals in New Orleans, but it was never more than a talking point. Being evicted from my place drove home to me that every one of those rentals likely had been someone’s residence — and could be again.
Quinn and I were able to find a new place to live (one with a working dishwasher, no less) in fewer than 24 hours, thanks to friends and tips from several potential landlords. And with our wedding a little over a year away, we had some money in savings. But what of the countless people who were kicked out of their apartments without enough for a deposit on a new place? What happens to them?
What happens to the neighborhood when a house is filled with new people every week?
Buying a home is easy if you’ve done it. But for those of us who are productive members of society trying to save what we can to buy a home, rental properties are the difference between staying here and moving somewhere else. I am a public school teacher and Quinn is planning a career as a doctor in family practice. We want to make New Orleans home for good. We want to live here and do our part to keep New Orleans what it is. But if rentals keep going away — driving up rents and kicking out people in the same boat as us — then we may not be able to stay.
So please, if you own a rental and are tempted by the promise of a quick and easy buck through vacation rentals, please bear in mind that while you may be making this city easy to visit, you’re making it difficult to live in.
Eric Aufderhar has lived in New Orleans since 2009. He coordinates special education services at a local public elementary school. He and Quinn still live in the Fairgrounds area with their dog and two cats.