Nigel Warren was headed to Colorado for a few nights last September and decided to subsidize his trip by renting out his room in his East Village apartment share for $100 a night. His roommates were cool with it, and the guests he found through Airbnb were quiet and polite. But while he was away, special enforcement officers from the city came to his apartment and issued his landlord a number of violations for operating an illegal transient hotel. The potential fines totaled $30,000, and Warren, a 30-year old web designer, has been trying to extricate himself from a costly Kafkaesque nightmare ever since.

Airbnb's popularity has soared in recent years (despite the isolated horror stories) and even Mayor Bloomberg lauded the website last November for helping Hurricane Sandy victims find free temporary housing. But in many cities like New York, there are longstanding laws against short-term rentals, and many of the arrangements facilitated through Airbnb are actually illegal in NYC.

WNYC reports that the city continues to enforce the multiple dwelling law "vigorously," and John Feinblatt, chief policy advisor to Mayor Bloomberg, insists the city's building codes are there for everyone's safety. “Hotels have sprinkler systems, hotels have those instructions on the back of the door that tell you how to get out during an emergency,” Feinblatt tells WNYC. “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.”

It's also worth noting that the city's take of the hotel tax revenue has been declining in recent years, and the heavy-hitting Hotel Association of New York City is firmly opposed to a proposal from Airbnb that would tax and regulate individuals who profit from "vacation rentals" in NYC. Airbnb has hired a lobbying firm to try and get the multiple dwelling law amended in Albany, but so far no legislation is in the works.

“What we’re really trying to do is look at the big markets where they have some laws, like in New York, that make it harder for hosts to host, and to change those laws,” David Hantman, Airbnb’s head of global public policy, tells WNYC, adding that "the law needs to distinguish between people who occasionally rent out their own homes, and landlords who illegally run residential buildings as hotels."

Meanwhile, Warren is still fighting with the Environmental Control Board over the potential $30,000 in fines. It initially seemed that his nightmare was over when the violations were dismissed on a technicality, but he subsequently received five new violations based on the same September rental. And he says he still can't believe "how insane this entire saga has been, given that the trigger was a several day rental that netted me a few hundred dollars."

As it stands now, the current law prohibits New Yorkers from renting out single-family apartments, or rooms within them, for fewer than 30 days—unless the tenant or homeowner is living in the home at the same time.