Frequently Asked Questions

What is an historic district?

An historic district is a defined, geographical area designated for its cultural, social, economic, political and/or architectural significance.

What types of historic districts exist in New Orleans?

There are two different types of historic districts in the City of New Orleans - National Register districts and locally designated districts. Currently, there are twenty one National Register districts and eighteen local districts. Boundaries of the National Register Districts and of the local districts often overlap.

Historic districts on the National Register of Historic Places are selected and administered by the State Historic Preservation Office in Baton Rouge, LA. Property owners within the National Register Districts may avail themselves of financial savings in the form of federal tax credits if the property is used for an income producing purpose. However, the only protection provided by the National Register designation is limited control over federally funded projects. Restoration tax credits and environmental review processes for National Register Districts are administered by the State Historic Preservation Office, in Baton Rouge, LA.

The New Orleans City Council designates local historic districts which are administered by local historic district commissions. Local historic districts protect the buildings and neighborhoods of New Orleans by providing regulations for changes to the exterior of all buildings within the local historic districts, reviewing new construction, demolition requests, and citing owners for "demolition by neglect."

Who regulates these local historic districts?

The New Orleans Historic District Landmarks Commission (NO HDLC) has jurisdiction over the fourteen residential local historic districts. This commission has fifteen members, one member from each local district and one at-large member. The Mayor, with the approval of the City Council, appoints all members. Members serve a four-year term and can be reappointed. 

The Central Business District Historic District Landmarks Commission (CBD HDLC) has jurisdiction over the four downtown local historic districts. This commission has eleven members appointed by the Mayor with the approval of the City Council. These members must be property owners or have their principal place of work within the Central Business District. 

Each commission has an Architectural Review Committee composed of volunteer licensed architects, experienced in the field of preservation, commission members and the HDLC staff.

If my area is proposed for local district designation, do I have any say in whether it is established? What is the process?

Yes. Public comment is an important part of the designation process. State law requires that property owners in a proposed local historic district be notified of the proposal so that they may appear and comment during the public hearings of the City Planning Commission and the City Council.

Any interested party or neighborhood association may request that the Mayor appoint (with the approval of the City Council) a study committee to work with the HDLC staff to determine the merits of a particular geographic area for historic designation. The study committee forwards its report and recommendations to the City Planning Commission (CPC) for public hearings. The CPC forwards a recommendation to the City Council which holds its own public hearings. The Council may approve, reject, modify or refer the proposed district back to the CPC or study committee for further information. If the Council approves the recommendation, it then adopts an ordinance establishing the new district, its boundaries, and specific regulations pertaining thereto.

Might my neighborhood lose its ethnic and social character?

No. Historic district designation is designed to protect and enhance the existing character of a community, not to change it.

What are the benefits to me as an historic district property owner? Are there any tax benefits?

Besides the honor and prestige of being recognized as a local historic district, local designation also provides protection. Local historic district designation is the most effective form of protection to maintain the historic character of a neighborhood. It has been proven to have a positive and stabilizing effect on property values. Local historic district designation allows the HDLC to enforce demolition by neglect violations against property owners who allow their buildings to deteriorate and blight the neighborhood. Also, once a neighborhood is designated as a local historic district, the HDLC has jurisdiction over all demolitions in the district, thus keeping to a minimum speculative demolitions that leave the neighborhood with vacant lots. Unfortunately, while there are tax benefits associated with National Register designation, currently, there are none for local district designation.

As a property owner in a local historic district, can I still make changes to my property?

Yes. Historic district designation is not created to prevent changes. Rather, the HDLC offers assistance to owners to make sure that any changes to the exterior are appropriate to the architecture of the building and the character of the district. The regulations provide for a design review process which allows for pre-application conferences.

Does the designation as a local historic district affect the usage of my property?

No. Local historic district designation does not affect the usage or zoning of any property.

Will I be required to restore my property?

No. The Commissions do not have the authority to force a property owner to restore or renovate his property. e.g. If a building had aluminum windows installed prior to the creation of the historic district, the owner of the property is allowed to maintain those windows, or replace them with identical units.

Is interior work or routine maintenance reviewed?

The HDLC only has jurisdiction over the exterior of properties. Review of routine maintenance work is performed at staff level as quickly as possible.

What can I use as guidelines for the changes I am planning?

One of the major purposes of the HDLC is to assist and advise you about changes you propose for your property. Call the staff in the early planning stages with any questions or concerns you might have.

The HDLC provides a series of handouts, free of charge, that cover HDLC rules and regulations as well as more specific topics such as roofs and associated details, wood finish materials, existing masonry construction and guidelines for new construction. In addition, the Secretary of the Interior's Standards for Rehabilitation, also known as the National Park Service Guidelines, are helpful guides for planning rehabilitation work. Also, the professional staff of the HDLC will be happy to meet with you to discuss any work that you might be contemplating and assist you as much as possible through all phases of your project.

Does the HDLC control what color a building is painted?

No. The Commissions do not have jurisdiction over the color that the exterior of a building is painted. The staff is prepared to assist a property owner in selecting colors which are appropriate to the age and style of the building. The commission does regulate the color of brick, the color of roofing material, and the painting of previously unpainted masonry.

What about buildings in deteriorated condition?

If a property owner fails to maintain his/her building(s) and allows neglect and deterioration to occur, that property owner can be cited by the HDLC for "demolition by neglect," that is, for allowing the building to deteriorate to the point where it is demolished through neglect. Once a citation for "demolition by neglect" is issued by the Commission, the property owner must correct the violations as noted by the Commission. If the property owner fails to cooperate, the matter is turned over to the City Attorney's office for action in Civil District Court. There the property owner may be assessed a fine for every day he is in violation of the "demolition by neglect" citation. Through this process, the HDLC works to address the problem of blighted properties in our local historic districts by getting property owners to act responsibly and perform minimal maintenance of their properties.

Will designation as a local historic district make repairs and alterations to my building more costly?

Many property owners think that a local designation requires the owner to make costly improvements, or that they will be forced to spend more money to comply with the appropriate preservation treatments than they would otherwise spend. While in some cases the initial changes may be more costly, it is hoped that those changes, if done correctly, will save money in the long run and increase the value of the building. Technical assistance offered by the staff and the Architectural Review Committee often result in savings to the home owner.

Can I call the HDLC with my questions? Can they provide any technical help in maintaining my property?

Yes. The staff of the HDLC will be happy to assist you. They can answer technical questions, suggest solutions to problems, explain the review process, and assist you in filling out your application. The staff will also make site visits and provide design review assistance.