New York City-based hosts on Airbnb and other short-term rental websites would be required to disclose their exact addresses under legislation announced Tuesday by New York Democratic Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal. Currently, addresses are only revealed to a guest once he or she books a rental. The law would impact hosts in multi-unit buildings.
Opponents of Airbnb say the measure would help New York City regulators better identify and fine bad actors on the platform, who they say jeopardize the safety of longterm tenants, break state laws, and snatch up a portion of the city's already-dwindling affordable housing stock.
The disclosure of addresses could serve as a deterrent for hosts, the reasoning goes, and aid city investigators responding to Airbnb-related complaints in large apartment buildings.
"The lack of addresses is one of the major reasons commercial operators and other serial law breakers on Airbnb's site continue to operate," Rosenthal said in a statement Tuesday.
Renting out an entire apartment for a stay shorter than 30 days was against the law for most New York City hosts well before Governor Andrew Cuomo signed legislation specifically banning the advertisement of such units last fall, instating fines of fines of $1,000 to $7,500. But that law had done little to dissuade hosts from advertising short term stays. A 2015 data dump from Airbnb revealed that over half of NYC Airbnb users advertise this way; there are 41,187 listings city-wide, according to Inside Airbnb, an independent watchdog site.
The Mayor's Office of Special Enforcement issued 837 violations for illegal short-term rentals between January 1st and May 31st, up 58 percent over the same period last year, according OSE data shared with elected officials.
Airbnb has presented the scofflaw hosts as victims, Rosenthal argues, in order to challenge regulations that threaten the company's bottom line. A recent FiveThirtyEight analysis found that a third of Airbnb's revenue between June 2015 and May 2016 came from the eight percent of hosts who rented entire apartments for more than 180 days out of the year, effectively removing them from the housing market.
Airbnb has countered that it can self-regulate. According to the company, 95 percent of NYC hosts have one listing on the platform.
— Linda B. Rosenthal (@LindaBRosenthal) July 18, 2017
Airbnb would be required to disclose all apartment addresses under the draft bill, which is still in its early planning stages, including those of compliant hosts.
"Forcing New Yorkers to publish their addresses online for anyone to see, especially while they are on vacation or visiting family, will put thousands of lives at risk," an Airbnb spokesman stated Tuesday. "This is a dangerous bill, and we trust lawmakers will see this for exactly what it is: another favor for the hotel industry sponsored by their favorite taskmaster."
Rosenthal countered that the mode of disclosure has not been settled yet. Addresses could be shared with City Hall and not posed online. "Airbnb is speculating," she said.
Airbnb also questioned Rosenthal's alliance with Share Better, an anti-Airbnb lobbying group that is primarily funded by the Hotel Association of New York City and the New York Hotel and Motel Trades Council (traditional hotels represent an industry that Airbnb was founded to shake up). "That's what happens around issues: people form groups," Rosenthal said, adding that other politicians and affordable housing activists are also onboard.
City Hall also did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Airbnb urged Rosenthal to comment on a recent Bloomberg Business report in which Share Better confirmed that it has hired a private investigative firm to conduct regular sting operations on apparent illegal Airbnbs. Josh Meltzer, Airbnb's head of public policy, sent a letter to City Hall last week asking if city investigators rely on "private, industry-funded organizations to conduct its investigations."
"It is a time-honored tactic to go undercover when you are trying to root out lawbreakers," Rosenthal said.
"We cannot ignore a claim of lawbreaking simply because a company does not like the source," responded OSE spokesman Alexander Schnell in a statement to the Daily News.
[Update 3/19]: City Hall spokeswoman Melissa Grace stated, "We will review the proposed legislation. The City has repeatedly asked short-term rental platforms, including Airbnb, to share data to help us enforce the law which they have refused to do.”