Politicians, community groups and affordable housing advocates held a rally at City Hall today to launch the "Share Better" coalition against illegal hotels—specifically, the currently illegal use of Airbnb to rent out entire apartments without the leaseholder present.
One after another, speakers described how New York apartment-dwellers have faced harassment from Airbnb guests, endured wild parties and general rowdiness, and been subjected to the general creepiness of an ever-changing group of strangers possessing keys to their buildings.
"Airbnb has two choices; follow the laws of New York State and New York City or get outta town," argued State Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal.
"Share Better" is now the biggest, most organized anti-Airbnb group, and poses a direct counterpoint to Airbnb's multi-million dollar NYC-specific advertising campaign to improve their image. "New Yorkers agree: Airbnb is great for New York City," the ubiquitous subway ads declare. But the subway posters, along with their video counterparts, only seem to focus on folks letting out a single room in their apartments, not their entire apartment.
(Jessica Warriner / Gothamist)
"We see all these cheery ads from Airbnb about nice people who are making ends meet by renting out a room in their apartment, and we see them having a lovely breakfast with their guest, and it's all sunlit and happy. And that's fine, and the illegal hotel law doesn't interfere with that," said Assembly member Richard Gottfried. "It's aimed at people who, whether they use Airbnb or something else, rent out a whole apartment, not just for a few days, but again and again and again as an illegal hotel. They're making money at the expense of the law-abiding residents of that building."
"Share Better" is rolling out an ad campaign financed by the New York Hotel Association, which is reportedly paying a significant chunk of the group's $3 million media push.
In a statement posted to Airbnb's website today, the company says "some in the hotel industry are launching a campaign to try and stop home sharing in New York" and argues that "some misinformed hotels are willing to spend millions of dollars because they don’t think regular New Yorkers should be able to share the home in which they live." The company also says:
We strongly oppose illegal hotels, and we are a company founded on the belief that housing should be more accessible, more affordable, and more available. We have worked to remove people from Airbnb that were having an adverse effect on travelers and the New York community. Earlier this year, we examined our community in New York and found that some property managers were abusing our site with multiple listings and weren’t providing a quality, local experience to guests. These hosts weren’t making their neighborhood stronger and they weren’t delivering the kind of hospitality our guests expect and deserve. We took action and removed these hosts and their more than 2,000 listings from the Airbnb community.
At today's rally, Vivian Riffelmacher, part of the West Side Neighborhood Alliance, said she saw a number of illegal hostels in her area shut down following the 2010 multiple dwellings law, but fears that Airbnb may be too much of a behemoth to be regulated in the same way.
"We won a small victory," said Riffelmacher. "But Airbnb is a much bigger, more powerful thing. And it's actually soliciting people to turn their apartments into hotels. It's back to the same problem, but an even bigger one."
(Jessica Warriner / Gothamist)
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has been investigating Airbnb to determine if the company is violating New York law, and last month the company agreed to hand over anonymized data on 12 months of New York listings. (The AG denied out Freedom of Information Law request for the data, arguing that disclosure of the anonymized data would interfere with the current investigation.)
State Senator Liz Krueger said today that she recently visited a 16 unit building in her Manhattan district with just 2 residential tenants left—"the other 14 units had been removed from residential affordable housing and regulation to be used as full-time ongoing illegal hotel-ing units."
The coalition's path forward against rogue Airbnb-ers appears to have two main angles: firstly, strengthening the 2010 multiple dwellings law that makes the renting out of whole apartments illegal. Secondly, they're looking to increase enforcement of that law.
"There's an office of special enforcement that started under Mayor Bloomberg. And that needs to beef up its personnel. It doesn't have enough people in there to actually go out and investigate all the reports," City Councilwoman Helen Rosenthal argued. "We need them to up their game. Look more closely at where it's happening, and get more deeply involved in regulating this."