All East Village resident Nigel Warren wanted to do was put a little extra change in his pocket by renting out his room while he was in Colorado for a few days. Using Airbnb, the popular lodging website that's scaring the daylights out of the hotel industry, Warren found a Russian woman who wanted an affordable (okay, less obscenely expensive) place to stay in NYC. She took the room for $100 a night, netting Warren $300. Unfortunately, he's going to need $2,100 more to reimburse his landlord, who was fined by the Environmental Control Board for the three night stay.
As you may recall, special enforcement officers from the city came to Warren's apartment and issued his landlord a number of violations for operating an illegal transient hotel. The potential fines totaled $30,000. The city has been enforcing the multiple dwelling law vigorously; it's intended to stop residential landlords from turning their properties into hotels. But usually they don't crack down on Airbnb type rentals unless they get a complaint, which they apparently did regarding Warren's building.
Why is this such a priority? "Hotels have sprinkler systems, hotels have those instructions on the back of the door that tell you how to get out during an emergency,” John Feinblatt, chief policy advisor to Mayor Bloomberg, told WNYC in February. “Hotels have to have two means of egress. Because we know that people who stay for a week or a day or three days need these extra supports in case of an emergency.” Hotels also have the powerful Hotel Association of New York City, a trade association that would really prefer it if you booked a hotel room during your visit to New York.
Airbnb argues that the types of rentals its users coordinate are not what the illegal hotel law was intended to prohibit, and the company has been lobbying Albany to revise the law. Until the most recent ruling in Warren's case, it was believed there was an exemption for hosts who rent out an extra room to a "lawful boarder," as long as the host remains in the dwelling while the guest was there. (In Warren's case, his permanent apartment-mate was home while he was away, but he never crossed paths with the Airbnb guest.)
But The Verge reports that the judge in this case "interpreted the terms 'boarders and lodgers' in the law to mean 'occupants who share the life of the dwelling with its permanent occupants' and not to 'complete strangers who have no, and are not intended to have any, relationship with the permanent occupant.' "
Warren has the option to appeal, but there's no gaurantee the next judge will be any more sympathetic, and it could end up costing his landlord more—a cost Warren has agreed to pay, lest he lose his lease. In a statement, Airbnb said:
This decision runs contrary to the stated intention and the plain text of New York law, so obviously we are disappointed. But more importantly, this decision makes it even more critical that New York law be clarified to make sure regular New Yorkers can occasionally rent out their own homes. There is universal agreement that occasional hosts like Nigel Warren were not the target of the 2010 law, but that agreement provides little comfort to the handful of people, like Nigel, who find themselves targeted by overzealous enforcement officials.
It is time to fix this law and protect hosts who occasionally rent out their own homes. Eighty-seven percent of Airbnb hosts in New York list just a home they live in -- they are average New Yorkers trying to make ends meet, not illegal hotels that should be subject to the 2010 law.