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Most NYC Airbnb Hosts Undeterred By New Law (So Far)

Dashed Arrow via Wally Gobetz's Flickr

A new threat of fines of up to $7,500 has so far done little to dissuade New York City Airbnb hosts from illegally renting out their entire apartments on the platform, according to a report from independent Airbnb watchdog and coder Murray Cox.

Cox created Inside Airbnb, a bird's eye map that catalogues public information associated with every single Airbnb listing in the city. According to his November 16th report, listings for entire homes and apartments have decreased 5.9 percent—from 20,306 to 19,116—since Governor Andrew Cuomo signed a law making it illegal to advertise entire apartments on home-sharing platforms like Airbnb. And of those 1,190 full-apartment listings that disappeared, 343, or 29 percent, appear to be illegal listings in hiding: full-apartment rentals simply reclassified as "private room" or "shared room" without any "meaningful change" to their price or description.

"A possible explanation could be that someone was renting out an entire apartment and then they decided to rent just one room," Cox told Gothamist on Friday. "But you would see, in my opinion, a drop in the price. And I didn't see any evidence of that."

"It looks pretty obvious to me, when you get such a high number of changing room types," he added. "It seemed pretty obvious that these hosts are trying to avoid the law." However, he cautioned that to be sure, "You'd have to ask [the hosts]."

According to the Mayor's Office, the new law will not be actively enforced until the city has held a public hearing on its implementation: an administrative step necessary to enforce a state law at the city level. The hearing is scheduled for December 19th. While the city will only be able to issue violations once the new law is established, the Mayor's Office of Special Enforcement can conduct investigations ahead of that date.

Cox said he thought his early analysis offered a good read on how Airbnb hosts are reacting to the new law, even though it's not technically being enforced yet. "I think that when a law's been signed that suddenly says the activity you are doing is illegal, you'd expect some people would decide they don't want to be fined," he said. "I expected to see a lot more [people drop their illegal listings]."

Renting out an entire apartment for a stay shorter than 30 days was against the law for most New York City hosts well before the advertisement of such units was banned. But the law has done little to dissuade hosts from advertising short term stays—a recent data dump from Airbnb revealed that over half of NYC Airbnb users advertise this way.

After Cuomo signed the new advertising restrictions, Airbnb went on the offensive, arguing that working class hosts will bear the brunt of this latest regulation, and accusing the state of conceding to the wishes of hotel industry lobbyists. Lawmakers have countered that the goal of the legislation is to crack down on commercial operators who use Airbnb to convert multiple apartments into rotating short-stay rentals for tourists, and have accused Airbnb of scrambling to protect its bottom line.

"Our focus has and will continue to be operators who take permanent housing off the market and put people in unsafe conditions," said Mayoral Spokeswoman Melissa Grace.

In response to Cox's new report, Airbnb reiterated a longstanding critique of his methods: that Inside Airbnb does not distinguish between hosts who rent in buildings with three or more apartments, and hosts who own single or two-family homes (the former violate state law with entire-unit listings, the latter do not).

"Inside Airbnb is a shill for the hotel industry and uses data scraping to distort the truth," a spokesman said. "Not all entire home listings are illegal as the new law only applies to Class A Multiple Dwelling Units. We support measures to crack down on illegal hotels but this law fails to distinguish between bad actors and responsible New Yorkers who occasionally share their own home."

Because Airbnb does not provide street addresses before a reservation is complete, Cox said that he is unable to check if each full-unit listing is in an apartment building or private home. He references Attorney General Eric Schneiderman's 2014 report, which had access to non-public data and found that 72% of all Airbnb listings were illegal in New York.

(As for the "shill" reference, Cox added, "It seems like they are getting desperate. I'm an activist.")

Marti Weithman, a supervising attorney for Airbnb-critical MFY Legal Services, has argued that it's fair to assume most full-unit listings in NYC are inside apartment buildings with at least three units, and are therefore illegal.

"NYC is overwhelmingly rental housing," Weithman told us over the summer. "While there probably are some homeowners in there, to the extent that there are, it's far less."

New York Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, who co-sponsored the illegal advertising legislation, responded to Cox's report on Friday, saying, "This makes the case for robust enforcement of the new and existing laws designed to protect tenants and affordable housing against the spread of illegal hotels."

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