At Skift, an interesting piece on the short-term apartment rental startup Airbnb's growing pains in NYC. The service is increasingly popular, but Skift writer Jason Clampet says "a basic search on Airbnb.com for New York City lodging demonstrates that more than half of the available bookings on the popular vacation rental website are likely illegal according to New York State law." (HT: Farai Chideya)

31 Responses to “Airbnb's popularity grows in NYC, but "half its listings are illegal rentals"”

  1. Mordicai says:

    Really?  Only half?  I figured it was much, MUCH higher than that.

  2. foobar says:

    So?

    The officials sound more than a little petty. If they want Airbnb to make changes, they should be willing to compromise as well.

  3. Dee says:

    I guess I don’t get why prohibiting an apartment owner from short-term sub-letting is a good idea. If it’s prohibited by a building’s bylaws, I know that when I buy it and I get a vote on such rules, and I can be fined or forced to sell if I break those rules. But, NYC is one of the most heavy-handed & bureaucratic nightmares for any owner or landlord to navigate. Seems like the Hotel lobby and 1%-ers just don’t like competition.

    Now, large scale “illegal hotels” are a bad idea. I get that. This just smacks of 1%-er privilege and anti-competitive gaming of city “laws.” Reminds me of a neighbor of mine who bought land in Texas for a retirement retreat. He went to the local city or county offices to get required permits for building and sub-letting an apartment for someone who could watch the place while he and his wife were not there. He relates that the gentleman he asked was the local head-honcho (mayor or the like) who replied, “OK. So do it. You don’t need my permission.” “Don’t I need a permit or something?” he asked. “For what? It’s your land isn’t it? You wan’t to build? Build. You want to rent it out? Rent it out. You want to paint it pink and stick feathers on it? It’s your place and you get to live with it.”

    • foobar says:

      I think the argument is that some landlords are offering units perpetually for this purpose, to the detriment of their live in tenants.

      It seems to me there would be a reasonable compromise where the city allows individuals to rent out their home for a certain amount of time per year, and Airbnb helps them root out the scumbag landlords. If the city’s not willing to extend that olive branch, I don’t really see the motivation for a San Francisco company to pay attention to New York law.

    • LinkMan says:

      It’s one thing to let people do what they want with their land in a spread-out place like Texas (even if it results in a zoningless disaster of a city like Houston).

      It’s quite another to allow people who live in close quarters with many other people to circumvent both the city’s health laws and their landlord’s or coop board’s screening procedures for residents.  When I see an Airbnb listing for an apartment in my building, I have no qualms about letting my building’s management know so they can ask the resident to take it down.

      • cdh1971 says:

        LinkMan, when I first read your comment I thought you might be an officious busy-body… then… after a second… I remembered some of the buildings in which me or friends have lived, and I would have done the same damn thing as you.

        p.s.
        Hopefully your super’ or management isn’t asleep at the switch.

    • pwjam says:

      It is a good idea if you are a hotel or B&B owner.  Follow the money!

    • cwcaton says:

      I don’t think NYC has these laws just to make it harder for people to rent out their condo for a weekend while they’re away. I think these laws exist to prevent people from creating de-facto hotels that do not abide by city hotel regulations about things like sprinkler systems and tax collection. We could argue all day over whether or not those hotel regulations are worthwhile, but if they are, then NYC’s crackdown is justified.

  4. Gerald Mander says:

    Recently rented a unit through Air B&B in San Francisco and showed up to find an eviction notice on the door. No matter how you feel about the tenant’s right to rent his property, as a renter you can still show up to find an unpleasant surprise. So when using one of these services, I would definitely ask the tenant if he has the legal right to rent.

    • Gendun says:

      There is currently no legal use of AirBnb in the city of San Francisco, Gerald – it is in express violation of the city’s hotel laws.

      The tenant upstairs from me in San Francisco was herself an illegal subletter, and even after the owner of my building volunteered to speak with AirBnb to get them to take her listing down, it was still a tedious struggle. I wrote about my experiences on one of my blogs, and ended up on the front page of the SF Chronicle for my troubles….

      http://mesoscope.net/2012/04/16/airbnb-makes-for-bad-neighbors/

      • Gerald Mander says:

         AirBNB conveniently doesn’t inform renters of this. It’s easy to look at the idea of AirBNB and think it’s great, but would I want to share walls with someone perpetually renting out to people who have no vested interest in being good neighbors? Hellno.

    • pwjam says:

      Did AirBNB do anything for you in this situation?

      • Gerald Mander says:

        No one tried to toss us out. We called the renter and he assured us it’d be okay. But here’s the important kicker: AirBNB never returned our calls. Not once. So, far as I can tell, if you run into a problem in a rental through them, you’re SOL.

  5. eldritch says:

    It’s New York City. Do you have any idea HOW MANY PEOPLE live there “illegally”? There is not enough space, there are not enough houses or apartments, people don’t have enough money, and the laws are quaintly naive. And this is true of most places of any moderate population density, not just the most populous city in the world.

    Plenty of people sublet illegally just to get by. In NYC, I’d wager there are countless people willing to pay a decent proportion of someone else’s rent on an apartment just to have a couch to crash on and acess to a kitchen and bathroom, and the people they’re living with are extremely grateful for the help paying for the place so they can have enough money to eat more than just ramen.

  6. pwjam says:

    My family and I stayed in an Airbnb apartment in Manhattan last spring.  It was managed by a company who has maybe a dozen units throughout Manhattan listed on Airbnb.  During the checkin process they gave me a lease contract for a monthly rental at $5,000/month (we were staying 5 nights) and suggested I should sign it so I could show it to the fire department should they come by to “check on the apartment.”  ”Just a formality” I was told.  I declined.

  7. Xof says:

    AirBnb has made it clear that they are simply too cool to do things like “comply with the law.” After all, some of those laws were written before the Internet, therefore, they have no legal force whatsoever in this modern age (and that is not much of a burlesque of their actual position).

  8. gwailo_joe says:

    I live in SF.  I live in a decent apartment.  I enjoy travel.  So the idea of ‘apartment swapping’ or some such is appealing to me.

    But the rumor of the AbnB hipster bureaucracy neither following the law nor assisting when things go wrong is hardly reassuring.  Nor are the majority of the postings I seemed to find particularly desirable: ‘give me money to stay in my small, charmless extra bedroom while I’m living there!’  

    Maybe it works for some folks…if so; that’s grand.  But IMO sharing a bathroom with strangers is not worth saving a few bucks.  

    Plus…I have a sneaking suspicion my landlord would make my living situation problematic if I ever tried a public advertisement of ‘my’ domicile.

  9. Jeremy Wilson says:

    I decided to give AirBnB a try this Christmas while staying in LA for four days.  The place we went with in Venice looked nice in the photos, but once we got there I couldn’t believe someone would pay rent to live in that scary firetrap.  The house should have been condemned, but a single family house was divided up into 7 “apartments” (little more than squats) with some seriously scary wiring. I think I will be sticking to hotels from now on.

    It was less an issue with AirBnB and more with wondering how a property owner could get away with renting these places to tenants, then who rent it on AirBnB!

    I think the whole AirBnB thing will begin to slowly collapse as the laws begin catching up with them, and I suspect a lot of illegal rentals will go with it.

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