Folwell Dunbar and his wife have rented half of their double out as an Airbnb. In this opinion piece for The Lens, they outline the case for merit-based Airbnb regulations that favor rentals that are homeowner-occupied and respectful of neighbors. Credit: Folwell Dunbar


Today, at the regular City Council meeting, Council President JP Morrell and Council Vice President Helena Moreno will introduce three pieces of legislation to ban all non-commercial Short Term Rentals in residential areas – basically, getting rid of residential Airbnbs in New Orleans.

My wife and I bought an old shotgun double in the Bywater in the late 1990’s. As a social worker and a teacher, we didn’t have a lot of disposable income. So, like many New Orleanians, we rented out the other side to help cover the mortgage. Income from the rental tenants allowed us to pay off our house in just over 10 years. It was a good investment. 

Shotguns in New Orleans are iconic and much beloved. But, as any owner would attest, the floorplan can be problematic, especially when having overnight guests. We needed a little more space when we had visitors.

Faced with this dilemma, we had two options: we could either convert our double into a single, or we could turn the other side into a short-term rental, and then block out dates whenever we had friends or family in town. 

Though we wanted the extra space, we still needed the income. So the choice was obvious: we converted part of our house into an Airbnb.  

We tried to handle our Airbnb like good neighbors. Though the space could have easily accommodated six people, we only rented to two people maximum. We didn’t allow parties, pets, or children. And, we didn’t accept guests who had negative reviews. 

Most importantly, we reminded our guests that we lived on the other side. If they needed help, or if there was a problem, we were only a thin wall away.   

After six years of hosting short-term guests, my wife and I have a consistent place for visiting family and friends to stay. We also have had almost 300 5-star reviews; we’ve been recognized as a Super Host; and we’ve never had a single complaint. 

The money we earned from Airbnb has also been welcome. It allowed us to make significant improvements to our property, keep up with the ever-increasing costs of taxes and insurance, and spend more money in the community. Again, it felt like a good investment.     

Soon after we started renting part of our house via Airbnb, we learned that our guests had more of a positive effect than we’d anticipated. Most of our guests didn’t have cars, so parking wasn’t an issue. Because we reviewed them, our guests generally took better care of the house than our former tenants ever did. They also supported local businesses in the Bywater.

Finally, having an Airbnb has been fun. We’ve met people from all over the world, from as far away as Sydney, Australia; Kuwait City, Kuwait; and Buenos Aires, Argentina. We have guests who stay with us every year; we have guests who have become good friends. We feel like we’re ambassadors for the city and the neighborhood. It’s a good feeling. 

We could easily go back to renting, but for the reasons mentioned above, we would rather not.

From what we’ve seen, problems with short-term rentals are generally the result of absentee homeowners, poorly written and/or enforced house rules, or a lack of proper oversight from the city. Banning all Short-Term Rentals is a classic case of throwing the baby out with the bathwater.    

My wife and I live on a busy block. There is a large house that’s been converted into an event venue, which was a poor zoning decision, as it turns out. The house hosts parties for hundreds of people every week. Nearby there are also other commercial short-term rentals: a neighborhood pub, three restaurants, a record store, and a group of houses that function as a commercial short-term rental. 

Most recently, the city council approved, over the opposition of most of the neighbors we know, a large “museum”/event space across from Markey Park, for the Krewe of Red Beans. 

Given all of that, I’m pretty sure that our little Airbnb with its two guests staying two to three nights a week isn’t going to “destroy the neighborhood.”        

The random lottery does not reward hosts that practiced care with their Airbnbs.

The house that won the lottery on our block has absentee owners, a couple who bought a double on our block a few years ago. After fixing  it up, they immediately put it on the market as an Airbnb. 

They rented out both sides to as many people as possible. They allowed parties, pets, and kids. When things went bad, which they often did, they couldn’t respond quickly – because they lived in another neighborhood. They racked up numerous complaints that required the city and/or Airbnb to investigate. They were cited for false advertising, excessive noise, and hosting too many guests. Still, they won the lottery.

My wife and I feel like we’re being punished for doing the right thing – for making a good investment for us and the city, while trying to be responsible neighbors.  Policies where luck outweighs merit don’t make sense. 

Please consider this our first appeal.