Airbnb, which allows people to rent out a room or home online, has turned into a worldwide hospitality industry, with 600,000 listings in 34,000 cities and 190 countries. It’s a growing presence in New York City, but many politicians claim that the majority of Airbnb’s business here is illegal. New York State Senator Liz Krueger explains what is legal—and illegal—about using Airbnb in NYC, what the company is doing to try to change laws in Albany, and how that will affect landlords and tenants in the future.
When is hosting on Airbnb illegal? It is not illegal to host on Airbnb if you own a single family home or two family home, or rent out a room in your apartment while you stay there. But if you live in a permanent residential apartment building and rent out your entire apartment for less than thirty days, you are breaking the law. "And that’s the vast majority, we think, of listers on Airbnb,” Krueger said. “I can’t find a lease or bylaw in the city of New York that allows you to do short term subletting without permission from your board or your landlord. It violates state law… it violates zoning ordinances, it violates tax law.”
“Thousands of models” are removed from residential use as a result of short term rentals, Krueger said. “People go and rent [up to] 25 units, and just become entrepreneurial illegal hotellers,… Every single one of those units is being taken off the market for people desperately trying to find affordable housing.”
Hosting on Airbnb could lead to a rise in evictions for renters who might not know that they are breaking the law and their lease. “We have begged AirBNB and the other companies: put the laws up on the website,” Krueger said. “You have a legal obligation to let people know what they might be walking into.”
Neighbors are also affected. Krueger gives an example of a typical complaint: an elderly woman who knows everyone in the building, who tells Krueger: “now people I don’t know have keys to the building. They’re in my elevators. They’re partying late at night. I’m scared. There’s no one to complain to when things go wrong, because the person who’s supposed to be in that apartment isn’t.”
What are other affordable options for people who want to visit New York City? “I am hoping that the city, and this administration, will take seriously the proposal to create for-profit hostels,” Krueger said. “We actually have a law that doesn’t allow hostels, which are all over Europe and all over the country, which offer a safe hotel model at a lower cost.”
But some listeners were skeptical that housing laws are being enforced equally. Andrew from Brooklyn called in to say that landlords violate city law all the time and rarely get penalized, but the city is cracking down on Airbnb hosts. “I’m very suspicious how much this is being driven by the hotel industry, and politicians are taking the hotel money and doing their bidding.”